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4,670 Panama Canal & Central America Cruise Reviews

The Panama Canal transit was something I rely wanted to do and as a bonus this cruise sailed from San Francisco. We booked with a 2 night stay there before we sailed and that was well worth it. Embarkation was quick and the luggage was ... Read More
The Panama Canal transit was something I rely wanted to do and as a bonus this cruise sailed from San Francisco. We booked with a 2 night stay there before we sailed and that was well worth it. Embarkation was quick and the luggage was soon delivered to the cabin. It is probably the smallest cabin we have had compared to other cruise companies though we look on it as just somewhere to sleep. There was a surprising amount of storage for a small space. The ports of call were frequent and an interesting mix of sights. We mostly booked excursions through the ship and they were reasonably priced. The organisation of getting cruisers out on excursions was shambolic. Daytime entertainment seemed to be aimed at selling you something on the whole. Craft sessions (origami) were timed just as you got back from an excursion with no time to eat and were not available on sea days. The evening shows were excellent. Praise must go to the ships dance company and it was a pity they only did a once a week show. We dine mainly in the buffet and it was good that we could also go to the "Irish" pub and the Asian restaurant to ring the changes. The main dining rooms only offered the same menu and this didn't seem to change throughout the 3 weeks. The buffet had a good and varied choice with themed evenings on occasion. Disembarkation was not well organised. Timed colour bands for luggage had been issued but the allocated times were ignored. We ended the cruise in New York and having had a slow and disorganised exit from the ship we then had a long wait to go through immigration. This involved a queue outside in 0 degree temperatures for 30 minutes or more then still more queuing in a cold and drafty shed that took about 1 hour. We would be reluctant to go with NCL again unless they were sailing somewhere different to other cruise lines. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
We had done the Panama Canal cruise a couple of years ago from New Orleans to Seattle, this time we opted for San Francisco to New York. The canal itself is still fascinating, but most of the other ports leave much to be desired. We had ... Read More
We had done the Panama Canal cruise a couple of years ago from New Orleans to Seattle, this time we opted for San Francisco to New York. The canal itself is still fascinating, but most of the other ports leave much to be desired. We had done several of the excursions before and the don't seem to ever change. We were actually more interested in three seeks of warmth and that was the best part. We had been on the Norwegian Pearl the last time so the ship was no surprise. What id surprise us was the deterioration of the service level on the ship. We're beginning to think that Norwegian has become the Motel Six of the cruise lines. The CONSTANT nickel and diming of the passengers is horrendous. Buy bottled water for $5 a liter, that works out to $40 a gallon for water bottled about half an hour from our house. Drinks have become outrageously overpriced. The "specialty" restaurants are really more like an Applebee's or Olive Garden, except not as good. We ate twice at La Cuchina , the first time was ok, even thought the service was casual at best. The second time I had the special "veal parmesan' which was a frozen sort of veal patty with some sort of cheese over it, a huge serving of tasteless ground meat, overcooked and dry. Service was better the second time. Our experience at Cagney's was horrible. We both have mobility issues and were walked, in the nearly empty restaurant to the absolute farthest table from the door behind the kitchen/serving area. Our order was wrong TWICE, my wife's filet was tiny and overdone. My prime rib was also overcooked and COLD. The baked potato was also cold and the sides were not what we ordered and had to be sent back. The service was surly an sarcastic. We did enjoy Le Bistro, if there were to be a next time, which is extremely unlikely, that would be the only place we would frequent. Moderno was fine, good service and we liked the salad bar, but herself did not enjoy the meat offerings. I did. The Garden Café is now officially a Jr. HIgh cafeteria, overcooked food of dubious quality. The best thing there is the bread. I did enjoy breakfast on the Great Outdoors, nowhere else. The cabin was standard balcony fare, nothing special. Where do they get those sofas that are impossibly uncomfortable. The only comfortable place to sit was on the balcony. Our steward was great. Entertainment was really third rate; a juggler, a magician, some entertainer whose claim to fame was that he was once on the David Letterman show! Anyone remember when David Letterman was on TV, how about Gary Moore or Arthur Godfrey? I did happen by the "Learn Origami" event; there were SIX participants. Upon checking the mini bar in the stateroom, I compared what was supposed to be there on the list and found more than half missing. Knowing there are often problems people try to correct on the last morning, I decided to try beforehand. The guest services person calmly told me that all things in plastic bottles had been removed, no notice, no updated inventory list, no correction. Just poor management. It is interesting to note that the "drinks package" encourages people to drink more than they should. wine with breakfast, really? We are not big drinkers and the package was one of the options, seems like a good deal until you read the fine print. The "service charge" would be much, much more than we would ever pay for buying drinks individually. The ports on the west coast are nearly all container ports. Long walks to anything other than gantries and trucks. Our best stop was in Guatamala where the locals have made a small park with vendors and entertainment. In Santa Marta, Colombia, the gantry, taller than the ship was within four feet of the ship. I did learn a lot about how container ports work. Our worst experience was with disembarkation. We needed assistance and were told where to go and wait for help. When we arrived at our appointed time, there were about forty others needing assistance. There were TWO people to help, we were place of the list and when the announcement came that ALL GUESTS should be shore, there were still about twenty waiting, the help had disappeared. We managed to hobble our way off the ship and for the first time, we were the very LAST people ashore, the next cruise passengers were boarding. This was our tenth and last cruise on Norwegian. The line is focused on getting every possible dime from it's "guests" . The constant selling of useless dodads, and overpriced, low quality jewelry is mind boggling. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
We chose this cruise because of the itinerary and the fact that it left San Francisco and ended in New York. Being from the East Coast, we only had to fly one way. This cruise had 13 port stops which was wonderful. The ship was almost ... Read More
We chose this cruise because of the itinerary and the fact that it left San Francisco and ended in New York. Being from the East Coast, we only had to fly one way. This cruise had 13 port stops which was wonderful. The ship was almost all senior citizens which we expected due to the length of the cruise. We met some wonderful people from all over the world and it was so interesting talking with them. We enjoyed all the port stops although once we got to Columbia, it was hot, really hot, so it took away from our enjoyment of the city tour we took. The gentleman who boarded the ship for the narrative of the Panama Canal was terrific. He was very well informed and explained everything as it was happening. I have read many comments regarding the food on Norwegian. We have sailed with this cruise line ten times and know that the variety in the main dining room is very limited, The left side of the menu is always the same, only the right side changing daily. On previous cruises, we found the food was served warm if not cold at times. Not on this cruise. Our food always arrived hot. We went to O'Sheehan's for breakfast almost every day as it was not crowded, you could get a window seat and the service was terrific. The menu is limited, but had what we wanted. We enjoy eating in the Garden Buffet, but do not like the fact that one of you has to sit down to secure a table while the other one gets food. By the time you get back to the table, the other person is finished eating. We prefer the restaurants but when in a hurry will resort to the buffet. The main dining room serves a very nice lunch and you are able to get sandwiches as well as a full meal. Our cabin was always immaculate. Carla was our cabin steward and she was so friendly and helpful. The cabin itself was very nice. We had a balcony (the only way to go through the Canal) and there was ample room for our things. Being a 21 day cruise, we had a lot of stuff and everything fit somewhere. We have never used the laundry service prior to this cruise and this time we used it twice. The wash was returned the next day and folded so nicely. We were impressed. We are platinum members so we ate at Cagney's several times, our favorite restaurant. I have read many reviews about NCL compared to other cruise lines. And yes, some of the others have better meal selections and shows, but your have to weigh what you are willing to pay for. We cruise for the joy of seeing new places and experiencing new adventures and as long as we have a good meal to keep us going we are fine. We also cruise, not so much as to a particular cruise line, but to the destination to which it is going and since NCL sails out of New York, it cannot get any easier for us living n eastern Pennsylvania. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
My husband and I chose this cruise because of the itinerary. Although we have cruised about 20 times (about 6 with NCL - we are latitudes silver because two of our cruises were from the 80's before they had a loyalty program), there ... Read More
My husband and I chose this cruise because of the itinerary. Although we have cruised about 20 times (about 6 with NCL - we are latitudes silver because two of our cruises were from the 80's before they had a loyalty program), there were numerous ports on this cruise we had not seen before. And it's a great time of year to get out of the winter for three weeks. We got a good deal on the original fare. It included 5 nights in specialty restaurants, the premium beverage package, $50.00 per port shore excursion credit, airfare and 250 minutes of internet. We up graded to premium economy air - the next category balcony stateroom and unlimited internet. We also added a thermal spa package which we found saves money by eliminating the need for a massage (you can work out all the kinks in the spa). I learned a silver latitudes rating gets you a free bottle of water and a discount on photos and some gift shop items. (But not the video of the Panama Canal) We did not spend any extra time in San Francisco, transferring directly to the ship from baggage claim at the airport. As recommended, we didn't fasten our ship luggage tags onto our luggage because we didn't want them torn off during air travel. But none of the people in the transfer process had a stapler to attach them later. Eventually we got one from another passenger. The bus driver was telling us we would have to transport our own bags because we didn't have the tags on them (a little stressful but oh well - we got it fixed and they took our bags). We arrived early and were on the ship before the huge crowds arrived. Our cabin seemed really tight/small. I don't think it was so much the square footage, as the way it was arranged. It really was as though one of us could be up in the cabin at a time. There was an ottoman type puff to sit at and a very uncomfortable loveseat sized sofa. No good place to sit at all. The TV had the typical BBC, FOX, MSNBC news networks. To stream a movie was a charge (this was free on other cruises we have been on). There was a TV series channel (with some old sit-coms) and a movie channel with commercials and no control over when the movie or show started. There was ample storage for our clothes. We are not big on attending a lot of ship entertainment. What we did go to was fine. Some of the musicians who played the lounges were good and some were not. We though Harry O was funny and the other comedian was ok. There was a magician who we enjoyed and that was about all we went to. We were very disappointed with the dining. We tend to use the main dining room and found the food there very disappointing - most meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) were mediocre at best. There were just a few nights in the main dining room where we found our meal really good. (We don't enjoy buffet style and scrounging for tables with your hands full of food. We would rather take our time and have our dinner served.) We also had trouble getting wine on our beverage package. I would order a Pino Noir and one night I would get it and then next night they would be out of it - and offer me a Chianti. It happened with Pino Grigio as well - there one night and the next they want to bring me a Chardonnay instead because they were out of Pino Grigio. Or they would offer to up sell me a wine that cost a few dollars more than my drink package would pay. I found that whole issue very maddening, We opted most night to share a table with others. It's a nice way to get to know others and we did meet some great people. The specialty restaurants were very good. We ate at Cagney's steakhouse twice, the Italian place once, the Brazilian Steak House once and the Hibachi Grill another time. In each of these places we had good food and service. It's the way I remembered the food being done in the main dining room in other cruises we have taken. We also ate at O"Sheehans a couple times and the Orchid Garden Chinese restaurant a couple of times. They both had limited menus but pretty good food. And we did eat at the buffet a few times too. Most of the food there was fine, it's always just so crazy to try and find a seat. The ship itself was a little worn. The chairs in the theatre were not good - they slanted forward and were very uncomfortable. The booths in the buffet and the lounges also had very broken down cushions and you felt like you needed a booster seat. I loved the mojitos at the Sugar Cane We really enjoyed our stop in Santa Barbara. We did zip lining in Costa Rica and that was an excellent time. Our tour in Cartagena, Columbia was fantastic as was the our tour through Antigua and the Santa Domingo Museum in Guatemala . The day through the Panama Canal was so interesting and fantastic. We enjoyed some of that day from the balcony in our stateroom, some from the Spinnaker Lounge and some from the Thermal Spa. We also enjoyed the ABC islands but didn't take any of the ships tours there - we booked our own tours and taxis and it was fine. In Santa Marta, Columbia, we booked an expensive beach tour through the shore excursions which was a big disappointment. When we returned, we complained at the shore excursion desk and they refunded 20% which helped quite a lot. (The tour wasn't worthless, it just wasn't worth what was charged). We were glad they took care of that for us. The thermal spa was nice - loved the way the lockers worked and I loved the view from the sauna - the tile lounger beds were nice as was the hot tub spa itself. The only thing I wanted was some lotion (they didn't provide any lotion anywhere in the ship). With few exceptions, the service on this ship was very good. Some times the service in the dining room was quite slow. I don't know why - was the food slow from the kitchen or the wait staff assigned too many tables. Other times it was excellent. Our cabin steward was really good. We used the gym a couple of times and the facilities there were nice too. I had trouble uploading photos to Facebook, which I really wanted to do on the internet package and rarely were we able to stream anything. BUT I was able to make internet phone calls with my cell phone connected to the internet in airplane mode. So I was able to stay in close contact with my family which was really important to me. Disembarking was TERRIBLE. We were given purple luggage tags and told we would disembark at 0930 even though the ship wasn't to get in until 10 am (how does that work??others had assignment times even earlier). We waited for hours in the public area of the ship for our color to be called - customs lines were very long...then it was a mad dash to the buses that were to transfer us to the airport. The first bus was full so we were directed to a second one, which filled up quickly leaving a lot of people standing there being told they weren't sure when the next bus would arrive. The whole thing was chaos and very stressful. This is on NCL's transfers purchased upfront. Much of this could have been prevented with better organization and communication with the passengers. We had a good time and I'm glad we went. We saw amazing sights, did some great tours and met some fun people, but in the future, I will be looking at another cruise line (most recently we have cruised Holland American, Viking and Carnival and they all had more luxury than this NCL cruise). It was kind of the Spirit Airlines of the cruising world. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
I wanted to travel through the Panama Canal on my birthday as I had done the Suez Canal with Celebrity Cruises the year before. I now call Norwegian Cruises - NO Norwegian cruises because anything you ask the staff except for our cabin ... Read More
I wanted to travel through the Panama Canal on my birthday as I had done the Suez Canal with Celebrity Cruises the year before. I now call Norwegian Cruises - NO Norwegian cruises because anything you ask the staff except for our cabin guy is a NO. Or they say yes and then you find out later its a NO. I asked if I could save a space for viewing the Panama and was told Yes, the 13th floor is open 24 hours. 2.45am I set the alarm and went to the 13th floor where I was confronted by the cleaner who told me, NO you can not be here. If you save a place the guy who does the floors will just move all your gear. My cabin mate booked 15 tours with the ship. I booked NONE because of how expensive they were. She paid over $1500US for her tours. I ended up doing a lot of tours she did however found a local at the end of the pier. The most I paid for any tour was $40US, plus I got fed. The ship tour didn't feed them once and gave free time at lunch. My cabin mate sat in crowed buses, was pushed and lost by the tour company twice. The food on board was so inconsistent. The main dining staff slow and untrained. It's like No Norwegian went to the jungle, pulled out a bunch of people, chucked them on the boat and said... you are a waiter, be free. 21 days with little to do, thank heavens we had 15 ports. Mostly it was a money grab. I have never had to pay to play deal or no deal. $29US, not enough players so we were sent away. Talks on herbal medicine turned into buy my acupuncture. They played the same movies on the in room tv over and over and over again. $9.95us to watch a movie on a tiny screen. Want to watch a rare movie with the crowd? You are sitting in the middle of a room next to a bar and coffee maker with people talking, coffee being ground and subtitles because you can't hear what is being said. Unfortunately if you are not in the front seat you can't see these subtitles and only the back of the persons head in front. Then there is the app that you can download. I couldn't believe there wasn't even shuffle board to entertain me, my cabin mate said yes there was, it's on the paper daily hand out. She used this and I used the app with the days agenda. This was the 2nd time I had been to reception saying that the app wasn't up to date. I was told that had I paid the $9.95 fee I would have been given up to date info. This fee allowed me to contact other passengers too. I didn't have anyone to contact as my cabin buddy doesn't like IT. I then asked for a complaint form, NO NORWEGIAN doesn't have these, go online and find one yourself. My eyes were damaged by the pool water. I couldn't see for 30 mins and have been seeing spots ever since. I was shuffled to 3 staff, the 3rd suggesting I pay for the doctor on board at my cost. We will see where that takes me. Another passenger in a motorized wheel chair was being lifted onto the bus when his chair slipped backwards and he hurt his back. The tour operator said it was NO NORWEGIAN responsibility as that's who he booked the tour with. NO NORWEGIAN said it was the tour operator. He is now seeking legal advice. A MONEY GRAB across the board. When attempting to get to the bottom of what % by law they had to pay out on the pokies and speaking to 3 staff I was told that if I put $100 in I would get to keep what ever it paid out. Don't get me wrong, I had a blast because I found fun people and created my own fun things to do. I would not recommend NO NORWEGIAN to anyone, this was my 2nd cruise with them and certainly my last. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
Luz and Joey, both from Philippines, were a joke. The morning tv show was them acting like small children. Couldn’t understand them. Since Luz was on the mic so often and then every night after the shows, most Americans complained to ... Read More
Luz and Joey, both from Philippines, were a joke. The morning tv show was them acting like small children. Couldn’t understand them. Since Luz was on the mic so often and then every night after the shows, most Americans complained to each other about her horrible accent. More than 1/2 passengers were European and Asian. Don’t know how they could understand. Did not enjoy the bands who were very loud (also mostly from Philippines). Sitting in the Orchid restaurant, could barely carry on a dinner conversation. The guest entertainers disappointed us. The Gem singers and dancers were very entertaining, but since this was 21 night cruise, they only performed once a week. The acrobatic Husband and Wife duo’s performance was very good. Did not enjoy the hypnosis guy Dale K. The Irish performer Harry O was mediocre. The male singers “These Guys” first show was great. The second A Capella show by them was less than stellar. The juggler tried to be a comedian but failed. Every sea day, there was a barbecue by the pool. Usually the Garden Cafe Buffet had a theme. Found the service in Grand Pacific DR to be extremely slow. We tended to eat in the Magenta DR. Because we chose to participate in Progressive Trivia on Sea days, we could not eat lunch in dining room as the events overlapped. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
PART I : PORTS OF CALL We wanted to leave the cold northeast for the month. This itinerary seemed to fit the bill. We’re Platinum level members. This was our eighth cruise with NCL. We chose to fly from NYC where we live to SF in ... Read More
PART I : PORTS OF CALL We wanted to leave the cold northeast for the month. This itinerary seemed to fit the bill. We’re Platinum level members. This was our eighth cruise with NCL. We chose to fly from NYC where we live to SF in order to get the air travel over at the beginning. The air was included in the cost of the cruise, so I guess you can’t complain too much about “free”. However the flight arrangements required us to get up at 2am. We had to change flights at O’hare in Chicago. After boarding there the plane sat on the runway for and hour and a half because of delays in SF. Once we arrived in SF we waited another hour and a half for the courtesy buses to the ship to show up. By the time we got to the ship it was now 4:30 pm. We managed to keep our eyes open for the muster drill, grabbed a burger and fell asleep exhausted by 5:30 ( 8:30 pm NY Time). The second day, the port of call is Santa Barbara which is a lovely small town. Tendering to the dock is required here. There are a number of decent restaurants in the area. I highly recommend the Clearwater Grill which is on the main road through town. There are street vendors and local artists in kiosks along the waterfront park. One highlight is the rollerblade/skateboarding playground where humans 50 years younger than the ship passengers practice their moves and skills. I loved watching these kids - so very Californian. It was raining in LA almost all day on the third day. The ship docks in the commercial pier in Long Beach. Since we’ve been here numerous times we simply stayed on board. The fourth day was at sea. Day five was Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The yachts in the marina indicate that it’s a rich person’s playground. The views are stunning. We went on the one hour “Land’s End Boat Tour” which goes around the world famous rock formations; then did a little tourist shopping before tendering back to the ship. There’s a Senor Frog’s here for those who like that particular ambience. We had our first bad experience on day six in Puerto Vallarta, Mx. The good news is there is a cruise ship dock here so no need to tender ashore. There were two other huge ships there that day. The other nice thing is that there is a Walmart superstore walking distance from the ship ( approx. 1/2 mile) so you can get things you forgot to pack at a reasonable price. However don’t get six packs of soda, beer or water. You will not be allowed to bring these or other food items back on board. The tour we chose was atrocious - “Discover Puerto Vallarta” should have been titled, Discover Stores who have paid Us to Take you to them”. The guide was indifferent at best, a little hostile at worst, was a little annoyed when I asked where the nearest bathroom was (another twenty minutes). We had a perfunctory look at this popular church. The bathroom ( for which you needed 50 pesos coins to operate) was adjacent and there was no toilet paper and the sink was broken. The guide grudgingly managed to come up with the pesos for me. ( I was threatening to just go pee in the street). The group spent SEVEN minutes at the church, because the next stop was a street filled with merchants selling the usual crapola, and a tequila tasting shop. We spent 40 minutes there. Then onto a jewelry store where the bus dropped us for 35 minutes while disappearing somewhere. The choice was to be constantly hustled by the salespeople in the store (where it was air conditioned) or stand in the street where it was humid and in the mid eighties. At this point many of us were ready to simply go back to the ship. But there was the “old town” to see. The old town didn’t look much different than the rest of the town. Here the “guide” dropped us off and said “you can look around and there are some restaurants, we’ll meet back here in an hour and a half”. My wife and I took a cab back to the ship, went straight to the excursion desk and complained about this farce of a tour. We were reimbursed for the full price as well as the cab fare. Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo on day 7 is a beautiful looking harbor surrounded by mountains, This is another tendering port. We chose to just enjoy the lido deck, poolside. Day 9 was Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala. We took the “Antigua on Your Own” tour. This is a mountain town which requires a bus ride of about an hour or so depending on the traffic. Along the way you pass several volcanos, one of which was actively smoking. That one sight alone was worth the entire day. Antigua’s streets (not to be confused with the Caribbean island of the same name) are all cobblestone; the sidewalks are broken up, so wear sturdy shoes and look down while walking. We saw a few people trip and fall. A walking (hiking) stick also comes in handy. Prepare to be assaulted (in a nice way) by four feet tall Mayan women selling all sorts of things you have no earthly use for. They will take no for an answer after about the fifth or sixth no. Sometimes. A nice highlight here is the Jade Museum. There are also a couple of Spanish colonial style churches to see if you enjoy doing the church tours. The tenth day was Corinto, Nicaragua. A bunch of local people rushed to the dock to see our ship arrive. There were three bands playing and young women and little girls dressed in native costumes dancing to the music. They were all very sweet. It’s anybody’s guess why the ship even bothers to stop here. This was Super Bowl Sunday. The Europeans on board were totally befuddled as to why we Americans were making such a big deal over it. A lot of San Franciscans brought along team jerseys, hats and even war paint. Oh well, you lost guys. Good game though. I was rooting for JayLo or Shakira to have one of those wardrobe malfunctions. Go Blue! The Aerial Tram and Rainforest Adventure in Costa Rica was excellent. The bus guide was excellent, the naturalists at the preserve were highly knowledgeable and friendly, the included lunch was delicious, and the aerial tram was a fascinating ride through the canopy. Those on the zip line appeared to be having a huge thrill as well. Day 13 for us and many others was the highlight of the cruise: traversing the Panama Canal. It takes around 13 hours to go about 40 miles through three sets of locks and the Gatun lake from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic side. People lined up on the bow before dawn broke. Day 14 was Cartagena, Columbia. We’d been there two years ago. Cartagena is worth seeing once. We stayed on the ship. Next day was Santa Marta Columbia where you get to see the deplorable slums that 70% of the population must live in. This is what happens when a countries wealth is drained by drug cartels and totally corrupt politicians. The white skyline of Cartagena and its similar but lesser one at this stop are empty facades for the very few well connected. These are not my words they were those of our tour guide. Here we did the Ecological Expedition, which was basically traipsing through a park along a dirt path and then a rocky stream bed to a pond at the bottom of a waterfall ( and do not think Ocho Rios which many expected). We did spend 45 minutes in the water which was very refreshing; while being entertained by a local little 10 year old girl who wanted everyone to watch her jump off the nine foot cliff into the pool. Our guide kept calling this place “paradise”, and after seeing the slums of Santa Marta, we could understand why. Last three stops were the Dutch ABC’s. Aruba: Shopping and hooking up with the free WiFi at the Starbucks inside the big hotel off the pier. Bonaire: less shopping and using the free WiFi at the illy coffee shop off the pier. Curaçao - The Ostrich Farm - totally fun experience. Totally dumb birds. Favorite souvenir: genuine ostrich egg. $15 unpainted. Also free WiFi at the Starbucks off the pier. The ship leaves Bonaire at 1pm on a Monday. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are at sea and you get to port on Manahattan’s west side piers at 10 am. If you like spending a lot of consecutive days at sea this is for you. In retrospect I would have gotten off at Curaçao and taken a plane back to Kennedy airport (you can opt to do that.) PART II: THE SHIP The Gem is a nice ship. It’s not the nicest we’ve ever been on but it’s perfectly ok. Our balcony had some noticeable rust and peeling paint, but that happens rapidly in the salt air and water. Crew is constantly working to minimize these things and prevent deterioration, The Men in White are a constant if unobtrusive presence keeping up with maintenance. The Stardust lounge where the main shows take place is huge. Bigger than on NCLs larger ships, holding around 1,200 people. As Platinum members we were able to take the backstage tour which was fascinating. It is amazing how the dance troupe is able to do such fast costume changes in such confined spaces on a moving vessel. The beds in the cabin were extremely comfortable. The TV is on the small side and half the channels are devoted to ship info or advertising. News choices are BBC, Fox, MSNBC and CNBC. One channel has some strange TV show choices, another has interesting and offbeat documentaries. One channel has feature films. There are two sports channels. I personally would have liked one channel which played nothing but Law and Order and SVU - but then no one would go to see the juggler, the hypnotist or the magician in the Stardust on the off evenings when the dance troupe or the guest singers were not appearing. PART III: DINING The main dining room is huge and the wood tones are warm and welcoming, and not garish as you find on a different unnamed competitor line. If you prefer a smaller general dining venue there is the Magenta. We personally liked the larger venue. If you don’t mind not being served, and simply want to fuel up in the least time possible there is always the cafeteria on deck 12. Service in the dining rooms takes about an hour. We spent twelve nights in one of the several specialty restaurants. Our favorite is La Bistrô (French), followed by Cagney’s (Steaks), LaCucina (Italian), and lastly Moderno (Brazilian meats on skewers). We personally don’t care for the Brazilian concept, but lots of people do like that, and their salad bar is exceptional. O’Sheehan’s is great for a quick hot snack. The chicken wings are excellent, the hotdogs and burgers are better than what’s upstairs on deck 12, and the spinach-artichoke dip comes out warm and savory with taco chips. The food is free here. We did not do the Benihana style Japanese restaurant (C’mon NCL, that’s sooo yesterday - replace Teppanyaki with a Spanish Tapas bar or a Vietnamese dumpling house), or the sushi bar. On the Breakaway the sushi bar had afternoon hours. On the gem it’s only open at dinner hours. PART IV: ENTERTAINMENT AND ACTIVITIES NCL is justifiably proud of its entertainment. We have found the dance and singing troupes (10 dancers, 4 singers) to always be broadway level ability. These 20 and 30 somethings work REALLY hard. The three shows they put on on this cruise were all outstanding. Each show is 45 minutes of nonstop singing and dancing with multiple costume changes. The guest singer on this cruise (Nicola Ward) has tremendous range, connects with the audience and does several styles ranging from pop to jazz to classical. The band are consummate pros, and often perform at the deck 6 bar venues when not in the Stardust. Keyboard, drums, base guitar, and sax are the quartet. A trombone is sometimes added for the quintet. There is a solo pianist performing almost nightly as well as a solo guitarist. The cruise director and her assistants lead those who are interested in the usual old time ship style passenger summer camp activities. Hey, if that’s your thing go for it. There is also daily trivia contests which a few passengers take very seriously. They form teams, and gawd help you if you sit in one of “their” chairs in the Atrium or the Spinaker. PART V: SERVICE The cabin stewards were fast efficient and after two days knew your bio rhythms. The restaurant staff are courteous to a fault. “Do you have any food allergies, or dietary restrictions?” - No Mommy. I have only one nit pick which I will address at length in a separate post. It is the use of the phrase “ Washee, washee !!” I find this use of the long discredited Pidgin English insulting. At best it is infantile, at worst it is RACIST. (“ No tickie, no washee !!”). Of all the lines we’ve been on, ONLY NCL trains its employees to use this phrase. The mostly Philipino young women who are told to say this don’t even realize in the 20s and 30s of the last century it was done in cinema to caricature and insult Chinese immigrants who had trouble with their English pronunciation. Naturally these folks spoke English better than the condescending White folks spoke Mandarin or Cantonese. So NCL, it would be much better to have your employees say perhaps, “kindly use the disinfectant before entering the restaurant. Thank you.” Thank you for reading my review if you’ve gotten this far. Dr.Bill Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
This is my 26th review for Cruise Critic. Unlike some reviewers that join this group just to complain about a bad experience, I have, for the past 10+ years felt obliged to write about my cruise experiences. I am a professional writer in ... Read More
This is my 26th review for Cruise Critic. Unlike some reviewers that join this group just to complain about a bad experience, I have, for the past 10+ years felt obliged to write about my cruise experiences. I am a professional writer in another life which tends to make my reviews long and thorough. If you want to know simply if we liked our time on the Gem, just count the stars. If you want to know the how’s and why’s, read and enjoy. This was our 47th cruise and our 13th with Norwegian. We favor RCCL because of the perks from their loyalty program (we are Diamond with them) but we went on this cruise for the itinerary. We are both in our early-mid 60’s. NCL has an updated cellphone app and I’m happy to report that it is finally worthwhile. Previously it had been so far behind RCCL’s app that it was abysmal. I started making dinner reservations 5 weeks before boarding. I’m not sure that you can even do that with RCCL’s app. The dinner reservations that I made weeks before boarding began populating a calendar in the app immediately. This is a HUGE improvement and makes the app very useful. The Freestyle Daily is on the app; a huge improvement, but you still can’t add to your calendar the daily activities that you want to partake in. This app is way better than it used to be but if you have sampled Royal Caribbean’s app you can’t help but compare. We got to the terminal at 11am and the security line was already a bit backed up. Our Platinum status with NCL had us on the vessel by 11:30 and that is with a slow moving queue in the gangway. My first impression of the ship was excellent. The ocean view stateroom (#4602) is a bit roomier than expected and the bathroom has a door that closes off the toilet and another one that contains the shower, both nice touches especially for a low-end room. Storage is plentiful. This was a 3-week cruise. We didn’t pack for 3 weeks as we always plan to have laundry done mid-cruise, but there was more storage than we needed. This isn’t the case on the Breakaway, for example, which sorely lacks in places for clothes in the cabins that we have stayed in. We had lunch in the Grand Pacific dining room. Surely better than dealing with the masses in the food hall on boarding day. It is too crazy up there for us. Dinner at Teppanyaki was exceptional! We have always liked this venue, but this time was even better than we’d remembered. A+! It was weird to be the only 2 people in there. I’m not sure why no one books specialty dining on the first night of a cruise. We always do. We finished the first day at the casino. The first breakfast in the mess hall was typical. We didn’t have trouble getting a seat. Breakfast was fine, service was good. Still too cold outside for me! As Platinum members, we got priority tender tickets and headed ashore at Santa Barbara. We didn’t spend much time ashore but relaxed aboard and had dinner in the Grand Pacific. We don’t often eat in the MDR, but it was good and so was the service. The magician was ok, nothing spectacular. As we expected, this cruise is full of people in their 70’s and 80’s. There won’t be much clamoring for seats at the theater or at a restaurant. I suspect that They’re all going to have an early bedtime. Day 3 began with an early arrival in LA and breakfast at O’Sheehan. Breakfast here is boring and predictable but there are ample tables and a waitstaff. We did an excursion to Rodeo Drive and met family for lunch there which was great. Dinner was at Le Bistro, the French specialty dining venue. Instead of using one of our dining package credits, I used one of the Platinum specialty dining vouchers. I assumed that these were equivalent to a specialty dining meal but they are not. There are a number of restrictions and ultimately it gives NCL the opportunity to show how they really can “nickel and dime” you to death. Example: my wife had the Lamb. There was an upcharge of $1.20. I had the Filet Mignon which had no upcharge. (Both were outstanding). In the end, they handed us a check for $1.20. This epitomizes “nickel and diming” in my view. It’s hard to believe that they do this with a straight face! Day 4 was a sea day. We relaxed. It was still rather cool outside, perhaps a bit around 70, but we spent some time on deck. The barbecue lunch was decent. There aren’t many activities planned on this ship. We don’t live for the activities but it is odd to see so few. We spent some time at the art auction. The menu selection at the MDRs didn’t seem interesting so, without a reservation, we showed up at La Cucina, the Italian specially restaurant. We had an excellent meal. At the theater was a sing and dance show called Swing. It was ok. We didn’t stay for the whole thing. We relaxed for the rest of the night. On day 5, we arrived in Cabo San Lucas at around 11. We have a Camel back ride on the beach planned here. We strongly recommend this excursion. Excellent time. I’m puzzled by the Cruise Director Luz. I don’t live and die by the cruise director. I don’t need them to have a good time, but in my view, she is a dud. Her thick Latin accent is a bit of a crutch but that aside, she just doesn’t seem to have any stand-alone talents. Don’t expect to see her on any new ships like the Joy or the Encore. On the 6th day we were in Puerto Vallarta. A new port for us. We took a $10 cab into town and had a great lunch. It’s a cool town. Dinner was at the MDR and it was very good. We don’t often go to the MDR. In fact, there have been some cruises where we never visited the free dining room at all. We have enjoyed our meals in the MDR so far. Admittedly, if we don’t see menu items that intrigue us, we will use a dining package voucher. That’s the plan. Tonight’s show was a 4-man vocal group called These Guys. They were really excellent. We are nearly a week into this cruise and we both feel like the Gem is exceeding our expectations. We boarded expecting to not like this vessel all that much. But we got on this cruise for the itinerary; 13 amazing ports (10 of them new for us) plus the Panama Canal over a 3 week period. We knew the ship was old, but we are not finding it to be decrepit. Some reviewers have said that it is badly in need of an update. This isn’t so. The exterior seems a bit shop-worn and in need of paint at some places, but the interior is modern and nice. The ship lacks the hi-tech amenities like a roller coaster, laser tag, bumper cars and skydiving, but those ships don’t go to the ports that this ship goes to. You have to make a choice. As I said, this cruise was about the ports and we didn’t sail to those ports in a rusty bucket of bolts. At least, that’s my feeling a week in. Tomorrow: Ixtapa, Mexico. Day 7 started with breakfast in the dining room. This is a welcome diversion from the mess tent but I wish the food was better. The service is nice but in spite of NCL’s efforts to offer some different items (I had Biscuit Eggs Benedict) they’re never as good as they sound. At least not yet. We lounged by the pool and then took a tender ashore to Ixtapa, Mexico. We had lunch at a beachside restaurant there. We had an excellent meal at Moderno tonight, but what is most notable to us is the service. In each of our specialty dining experiences, the Matre ‘d has come to our table, introduced himself, and offered us something. Maybe it was a complimentary Espresso, dessert or maybe just his business card, but in every case, he made us feel special. The magician on board gave his second show, a decided upgrade from his first one. Bravo! The entertainment here isn’t Broadway-type like on Royal or like on the Breakaway, but it’s better than we expected. We topped this day off with a remarkably cooperative Blackjack table in the casino. Day 8 was a sea day. It’s getting hot out. Finally got in a pool day! The cooking demonstration was good. We usually skip the port talk but since these are all new ports, we took that in. Lunch at O’Sheehan was good. It’s Always free there but it’s a limited menu that never changes. I’ve read some reviews here where someone has a negative opinion about something and then supports it by saying that “I heard others saying the same thing” as though they need input from others in order to validate their own opinion. Well, not to sound as though I’ve jumped on that bandwagon, but so far we have bumped into a number of people that have sailed the Gem before and love it and proclaim that they would never sail a mega ship. While I don’t agree with their disdain for mega ships, it’s easy to see, so far, why this vessel has many fans. It’s annoying that some voyagers join this board for the sole purpose of bitching about a single substandard experience. Often they have little to complain about. We had dinner at Cagney’s tonight. It was good. Being Platinum members, we were able to walk in without reservations, but don’t try that without Latitude status. We would have had to wait until 8:30 to dine otherwise. I still don’t like that NCL has upcharges on certain menu items even with the dining package. It really screams “nickel and dime”. Nicaragua was an interesting port. We hired a bicycle taxi around town and bought a couple of things. A couple of days ago, the ship, reacting to the worldwide Coronovirus problem, changed the way they do things in the Garden Cafe. Passengers no longer touch anything. Staff members serve everything from water to coffee to toast to anything in warming trays. It works fine. Good service actually. It’s good too see them able to react on the fly like that. Our laundry came back today. What a nice presentation! Our clothes came back nicely folded and packaged in two straw baskets! Very impressive! We have yet to hit the Garden Cafe for one of their specialty nights. It was Italian night a couple nights ago, Indian Night last night and Greek night tonight. I’m not sure what to expect so we went to LeBistro again. It was great but I’m starting to feel like I’m overeating. We had a zip line through the jungle excursion in Costa Rica today. So after a quick breakfast we headed to the pier for that. Highly recommended excursion. We went to the MDR for dinner and were not impressed. The choices were not inspired and the service was a bit slow. There is no doubt that the specialty restaurant are a cut above. MDR meals are mediocre. The Blazing Boots production show is a salute to country music. Not our genre, so we didn’t stay for the entire show. Some may find it entertaining. Next day was a much needed relaxing sea day. We had dinner at La Cucina again. This is a terrific restaurant. The comedy juggler was surprisingly entertaining. Finally the highlight of the cruise arrives- the Panama Canal crossing. This should be on everyone’s bucket list. It takes all day, starting around 6:30 am. The best view, really, is from your stateroom where you can see everything from the bow camera on the tv. The narrator on the PA was excellent. They open up deck 8 forward to the public for a close-up view which is normally a crew-only deck. They offer a 6 minute time-lapse movie of the entire canal crossing for $30. Well worth it. We had dinner at the complimentary Orchid Garden which was good. We don’t find that the MDR has attractive choices for dinner to lure us there although we had an excellent lunch there. The evenings entertainment was a hypnotist. He was hardly entertaining in our view so we left after 15 minutes. Day 14 brings us to Cartagena Columbia. A new port, country and continent for this world traveler. We started with breakfast in the dining room. This is notable because I had the Golden Waffle with Banana. This doesn’t sound like much but it is the best breakfast item I have ever had on land or sea! Delicious! I will be back to the dining room this coming week for this item. I loved it! We booked a Carriage ride in Cartagena this morning. This turned out to be a good choice of excursions. A bus tour through the new and old city, a horse-drawn carriage ride through old town and a couple of stops for shopping/photos. We went to Le Bistro for dinner again. It has become our favorite. We skipped the show in favor of a casino investment. On day 15, we docked in Santa Marta Columbia. There’s a free shuttle that brings you close to town where there are more street vendors than we have ever seen anywhere in the world. There were thousands. After lunch at O’Sheehan’s we took a much needed rest. The hot sun really took its toll. As we made our way to the Caribbean where we have been a great number of times, it was good to not have the pressure of wanting not to miss seeing a place that we’ve never seen. After breakfast, we walked through Aruba and we were back on board for lunch at the mess hall. Oftentimes you read that there’s no variety up there. That just isn’t true. There are a few staples, just like in the MDR, but there are new items every day and we haven’t had anything that was cold or inedible. We enjoyed having the pool area pretty much to ourselves. After a rest we had dinner at Cagneys. It was A++. In Curaçao, we rented a scooter and toured the island. There isn’t much here as compared to mainstream Caribbean islands but we had a good day but a crappy lunch. Dinner at Moderno was a disappointment. They couldn’t get meat medium rare. It was either over cooked or under cooked. Geez. I left stuffed anyway. There was an acrobat couple called Duo Destiny. Best show so far!! Tomorrow is day 18 in Bonaire. Kudos to you if you’re still reading this! There isn’t much going on in Bonaire but after a quick breakfast we had 4-5 hours to make the best of it so we rented a golf cart for $95 and drove around most of the island. It was worthwhile and cost less than what an excursion would have cost for the 2 of us. Back on board, we finally tried the Topsiders BBQ. It was ok. We only have 3 dinners left on our 12 dinners dining package and there are 4 nights to go. Gone are the days when they had prime rib and lobster on any given night in the MDR. The MDR just isn’t for us. If you’re ok with basic run of the mill food, you’ll be ok, but if you lean towards fine dining, forget it. I presume, at this point, that it’s NCL. We haven’t seen such poor MDR selections at RCCL but we haven’t been on that line in probably 2 years. We haven’t had bad meals at the MDR, but certainly not great ones. Tonight, I’ll pay out of pocket for Teppanyaki because it’s not ala carte. The next 3 nights are sure to please with La Cucina, Cagneys and Le Bistro. At breakfast this morning, we were at the Grand Pacific MDR again. I noted the tag line on the table placard. It says “nobody does dining like Norwegian”. This is a true statement. Carnival and Royal do dining differently than NCL. They do it better. I have said this before and not stuck to it: this is my last cruise with NCL. But they have some great itineraries (like this one) and some great attractions (race track, laser tag), terrific entertainment (Rock of Ages, A Choir of Man, Jersey Boys) but it bugs me that the mainstream food; the free food in the MDR, really misses the mark. Gone are the days of Lobster and Prime Rib night. The food in the MDR is really basic. The presentations are nice, the service is good, but the imagination as far as menu items is non-existent. In spite of the shortcomings of Platinum status, one huge advantage that we found was being able to show up at a Specialty Restaurant and eat when we wanted, regardless of when - or if - we had reservations. This is a big plus. On this, the second to the last sea day, it seems like the Specialty Restaurants were quite full and our reservation at Cagneys was at 7:45. We showed up at 5:30 and I said that I was ready to eat now. I got no pushback. And we were seated within minutes. Very professional. On the last day of any cruise, they always have these “blow-out” sales where they offer all sorts of souvenirs in a flea market atmosphere. Here, they turned the Orchid Garden and Sushi restaurants into a flea(bag) marketplace. What a disgusting low-class thing to do!! I can hardly believe my eyes! NCL does stupid things. They do it to themselves. They could be so much better than they are if they would only re-think the things that they do and consider the customer viewpoints a bit more diligently. Our final dinner had to be at Le Bistro. The Matrie’d Sandrick took amazing care of us, not only this time but all 4 visits to this great restaurant. The final show was a 70’s & 80’s retro song and dance show. Right up our alley! We loved it!! Finally, it was time to go home after 3 weeks. Debarkation is very poorly done. No platinum lounge, don’t sit here, don’t wait there. Geez, treat me like a customer. The disaster at the end of the cruise is reason enough to say that RCCL is the way to go in the future Recalling that we have similar status with NCL (Platinum) and RCCL (Diamond), the associated perks with Royal are head and shoulders above NCL, but that’s not what this review is about. This was an excellent vacation and an extraordinary itinerary on a fine ship. But NCL has some shortcomings and frankly, I think that they are, in some cases, self-inflicted. For example, the incident with the $1.20 upcharge for the lamb that my wife ordered. They should raise the price of the cruise for everyone by $1 and not do this to avoid the embarrassment of looking like extreme cheapskates. As Diamond members on Royal, we get so many perks, such as the Diamond Club, that we really feel like Royalty. Admittedly, on this cruise with NCL we are able to dine in Specialty restaurants without reservations that are otherwise booked solid which we appreciate, but all things considered, the bennies do not compare. Still, this cruise, which is what this review is about was excellent. The ship was perfectly acceptable (we didn’t expect more from such an old ship), the food was good because we made it so, (we didn’t pay much for the cruise, but paid a few hundred dollars more to eat good food) and the entertainment was on par with what we expected; no spectacular shows like Royal, but plenty of variety. And with variety, you will like some shows more than others, by definition. With a port-intensive itinerary like this one, you are perfectly fine with skipping a show here and there. Do I wish Royal had done this cruise on the Allure of the Seas? Yes, I do. But it would cost double or triple as much, the older crowd would never pay the price and therefore it would never happen. We went on this cruise and we have no regrets. It was great. I do wish that NCL did certain things differently but their trend is in the other direction, so, just as I have concluded other NCL reviews, we will continue to favor RCCL heavily. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
We chose this cruise because of the great price. Our cabin was D1842 on the lowest passenger deck and we were very happy with it. This is not a cruise for younger folks. There were two children on board and I had to wonder if they were ... Read More
We chose this cruise because of the great price. Our cabin was D1842 on the lowest passenger deck and we were very happy with it. This is not a cruise for younger folks. There were two children on board and I had to wonder if they were bored to death. The room stewards were excellent, as were the bar waiters and all the staff in the Lido buffet. Unfortunately we had poor service in the MDR despite going there when they said they were less busy. One night after waiting 20 minutes for the waiter to take our order we gave up and left, never to return. The food in the Lido was excellent and varied. We loved having eggs benedict cooked to order for breakfast. We loved the Crow's Nest lounge up top, despite the noisy daily trivia. The art work was great. As it happens I love oriental art so I really appreciated the lifesize terracota warriors and horse and ancient Chinese artifacts. We enjoyed the Ocean Bar. There were always places to sit around the ship but the daytime music in all the lounges except the library annoyed us. The Explorations Cafe offered custom coffees and also served as the library, board game room, and internet cafe. This was the largest library I've seen at sea in years. It was a popular room but there was always a chair available. We appreciated the wraparound promenade deck for our daily walks. The art gallery and auction were, blessedly, low key. There were several recent, good movies in the Wajang Theater but it was hard to understand why there was just this smallish drop down screen instead of a real movie screen. If you sat at the sides of the theater it was hard to see the screen. It was nice to have a real movie theater onboard, though. The Billboard lounge features two grand pianos and two musicians playing and singing. A different decade of songs was featured each night. We thought the male singer was good but the female was not professional quality in our opinion and we also couldn't see the appeal of the place but it was very popular. Aside from the great price what we really like about this ship was the relaxed, uncrowded atmosphere. The passenger to space ratio is average so we're not sure how this happens but we never experienced lines or crowding, even at the elevators which always arrived promptly. The entertainment was good for the most part though we miss the production shows they no longer have. There was a German instrumentalist who played the marimba, sax, trumpet, drums, and pan pipes. He did a dueling drums thing with the ship's drummer that was fantastic. He did "Stairway to Heaven" on the pan pipes that was hauntingly beautiful. He was so good we went back to the second show to see him again. There were always seats available in the show room - no need to show up a half hour ahead for a seat like was the case on Princess. There were two cornhole tournaments we enjoyed and lots of trivia games. They had many performances of classical music in the Lincoln Stage that were very good, provided by a young, enthusiastic quintet. The port lectures and talks on Mexican history and culture were excellent. The passenger service desk and shore excursion desk staff were both efficient and courteous. Embarkation and disembarkation were efficient and painless. The hot dogs and hamburgers were made to order so they gave you a little buzzer for when your order was ready but when we used this a crew member passing by grabbed the buzzer, got, and delivered the order to where we were! Impressive and the hot dog was the best I've had on a ship. The main pool has a cover so it can function in any weather and this was a popular area. It also had two ping pong tables made of real, beautiful woods and unlike on many ships they were in a protected area so you could play without the wind ruining your shots. The pool behind the Lido buffet was also popular and there were nice tables and chairs out there that were a bit protected from wind and sun. One of our favorite things was the towel animals the room stewards left on our bed each night. And on one of the last days the crew decorated the entire pool area with towel animals. It was a great display much appreciated by many of us. This is a ship for us older folks who don't need non-stop entertainment and activities and like to spend time watching the ocean or reading or enjoying walks on deck. This is an older ship without the modern bells and whistles but it was perfect for us. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
The food was very disappointing on this cruise. The dining room food was so bland that we just stopped going halfway through the cruise. I remember the disappointment on everyone's face when one meal in particular arrived. I still ... Read More
The food was very disappointing on this cruise. The dining room food was so bland that we just stopped going halfway through the cruise. I remember the disappointment on everyone's face when one meal in particular arrived. I still find it hard to believe that they had the nerve to serve such a meal. The buffet (World Market) was okay for breakfast and lunch, and some of the specialty restaurants were good, but for the price of this cruise, you shouldn't have to pay extra to get decent food. I mostly found the decor of Caribbean Princess pretty uninspiring, although the World Market looked updated and tasteful, and the back of the ship was nice. Other complaints are that they were always blaring movies at one of the main pools, so you couldn't just sit and relax. Often you could hear two different music sources at the same time. And the hot tubs weren't hot – just warm. You also had to keep a close eye on your bill – even after buying the drink package I was charged for a couple drinks. (I pointed it out and they removed them, but the reason they gave for one of them is that I used their app and the drink came from room service rather than a bar.) And to top things off, there was sickness and coughing all over the ship. We were all perfectly healthy when we left on the cruise, but four out of six of us got the flu during the cruise and two developed pneumonia. This was my third and most expensive cruise – my first with Princess – and was definitely the worst. After this experience, I probably won't go on another cruise, but if I ever do, it won't be with Princess. Believe it or not, I really don't like to complain – we're so privileged to be able to have a vacation like this – but our entire group was quite disappointed with this cruise. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
This was our 14th time on Princess and 4th on Caribbean Princess. We took the cruise because we hadn't been to the Panama Canal for several years. Everything met our expectations, except for the implementation of the new Medallion ... Read More
This was our 14th time on Princess and 4th on Caribbean Princess. We took the cruise because we hadn't been to the Panama Canal for several years. Everything met our expectations, except for the implementation of the new Medallion Class Technology. Before saying what was wrong with the implementation, I must say it is great technoloy if the users are able to understand how to use it. It was the fastest boarding we've ever had on a cruise. It's neat to be able to find your friends around the ship, buy stuff with the tap on the phone, see what's going on around the ship at a particular time, and have the cabin door unlock as you approach. That said, the implementation suffered on several levels. First, there were serious problems with the smart phone apps. We couldn't download the Ocean app once on the ship. (While sitting in the theater at 1:45 PM on Boarding day listening to the Cruise Director tell us how wonderful the technology was, most of us with iPhones were still trying to download that app. We all had the same error message, "Can't connect to iTunes store". I don't remember a thing the cruise director said. I do remember thinking, "Does he know what a fool this technology is making him appear to be!") I finally figured out a solution which involved uninstalling the Medallion Class app I'd loaded before coming onboard and then reinstalling it by downloading it from the system on the ship. Then I was able to download the Medallion app and get things set up. It was well after dinner before I was able to get that done; because thousands of my fellow travelers were also trying to download apps. No cruise line has a big enough pipe to support that simultaneous Internet demand. My guess about how that could have happened is that a new update to the Medallion Class and Ocean apps had been developed before we left for the cruise. I'm guessing Apple hadn't cleared that app for the iTunes store because of bugs, but Princess had pushed the apps to the ship. The new Ocean app certainly wouldn't handshake with the old Medallion Class app. As to what the bugs that kept Apple from putting it up might be, an obvious one is that geographic location wasn't displayed on any of the photos we took both on ship and on shore excursions. My phone didn't start displaying that photo information again until I'd uninstalled the apps after the cruise. One other technical bug is that the whole system seems to have been designed for 24/7 Internet access from the Medallion system through purchase of 24 hour or cruise long Internet packages. It seems that somebody finally realized that the frequent travelers have free Internet minutes. The solution to that was access through a screen on a web browser that is separate from the apps. It was really easy to run out your free minutes by mistake the way it's set up. That happened to my wife. We gripped, and the minutes were restored. The second problem is marketing gobbledygook. When you finally get the Ocean app installed, there are six or seven parts all called "Ocean" something. I still can't remember what each individual one is called. (While the designers are probably too young to understand "Age Related Memory Loss", the guests certainly aren't. I'm surprised Princess hasn't changed the title of the person in charge of the ship to "Ocean Captain"). The company did mess with another bridge position. "Navigator" is the jargon term for "help desk employee". The physical location of the help desk is "Ocean Front". (Great oxymoron. It has nothing to do with the ocean the ship sails on and is located at the back of the ship.) Yet another terminology problem is that the Internet is called "MedallionNet". That wouldn't be so bad were the Wifi system on the ship not also called "MedallionNet". That renaming of common terms was a contributing factor to my wife losing her 250 free minutes of Internet. It happened when whe wanted to go from Internet on the browser screen to the Wifi system. She might have hit the "Medallion Net" button in the center of the screen instead of closing the browser and going to the app. One last note is that in deploying a system that requires hand held devices, Princess seems to have forgotten they need to be recharged. There is still just a single two plug outlet in a stateroom. The cost of adding another outlet plus a couple USB ports would have been no more than a rounding error in the cost of the new hardware that's been installed throughout the ship. (Didn't bother us. Thanks to something I read on Cruise Critic five or six years ago, I always back a small power strip when leaving for a cruise.) A note not related to IT is that the theater is too small. It takes three shows for all the passengers to fit. On our three prior cruises on Caribbean Princess, they did three shows a night. Now they've gone to two. We had 5 PM traditional dining - the earliest sit down dining offered. We got to the theater at 6:45 PM and couldn't get seats together for two people for the 7:15 show two times. When we were able to get in, the shows were good - worth waiting in line for. Some comments about dining. I have Celiac Disease and thus must eat gluten free. In the evening, I take advantage of formal dining where I have the same waiters every night. They learn about the food allergy the first night and then accommodate me the rest of the cruise. (It doesn't work that way in anytime dining. New waiters every night.) On this cruise, in 5 PM traditional dining, our waiter Richard Rodriguez did an outstanding job meeting my need. I was able to pre-order for the next night, he would have things specially made gluten free for me, and he generally kept me out of trouble. That all happened while providing excellent service. I can only give a mixed review about dining at breakfast and lunch in the buffet. There is plenty of food that's gluten free. With the exception of a couple of desserts at lunch, none of it was labeled gluten free. On the first day, kitchen staff persons were available at lunch to show us what was gluten free in some areas of the buffet. I remember the man that gave me the tour showed me lots of things. All I remember out of that is, "the soups are always gluten free". The other stuff was intermixed among non gluten free items, and then there's the fact that the fare on the buffet changes every day. I played safe. What I had was good, but I'm sure I missed a lot of great stuff; because it isn't labeled. One last comment - my "Platinum" benefits as a frequent cruiser on Princess aren't worth much in light of Celiac Disease and the new technology. The three main benefits have long been 1) expedited checkin, 2) Special receptions at 5 PM, and 3) Free Internet minutes. As I noted above, everybody blows through checkin at the pier with the new technology. I need to eat at traditional dining because of Celiac, and since I'm not a night owl, I don't want to sit down to dinner at 7:30 PM. That leaves me in 5 PM traditonal dining when all the platinum activities happen. Finally, the cruise line is obviously moving towards Internet packages and wishes the free minutes thing would go away. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
We've been on Princess before and had wonderful experiences. And this cruise was on many ways no different. It would have been at least 4 stars but for the dreaded Medallion and its app's. The medallion gets you on and off ship, ... Read More
We've been on Princess before and had wonderful experiences. And this cruise was on many ways no different. It would have been at least 4 stars but for the dreaded Medallion and its app's. The medallion gets you on and off ship, pays shipboard Bill's, and opens cabin doors. It works. But it is also supposed to work with the Ocean Compass app which is supposed to locate friends, order drinks etc etc. That doesnt work. At one point on a sea day it indicated that I was off ship? Where? No clue. Sometimes it simply doesnt load making it totally worthless. As a person who is pretty tech savvy, I suspect that it wasnt tested properly or under sufficiently rigorous conditions or maybe it just plain doesnt work. In any event, I would warn folks to not rely on it for any serious communication. Part of the problem is also that the folks at the Medallion desk are not IT people. They are dancers. Probably very good dancers but dancers nonetheless. There should be at least an IT person on the desk supervising the dancers. Somehow, the cruise didn't gel. Most staff were personable and appropriate. But others were uncaring and rude. The general sense I had was that everyone was new, had never been on a ship before and didnt want to be on this one. There some serious safety issues in the spa area. Drinks were served in glass around the pool and steam rooms. I have never been at a pool were drinks or food were served in glass. The shore excursions were generally good. The one poor trip was to the White House. Supposed to be a beach excursion with lunch. Problem is there is no beach in the expected sense. There was an open deck over the water from which you had to climb down a ladder to enter the rocky water. Not an easy task. The pool area was nice except the pool needed a good scrubbing. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
We sailed January 20th on a 10 day southern Caribbean cruise with stops in Costa Rico,Colon.Panama,Cartagena, Aruba, Curacao but missed Costa Rico due to medical emergency.This was one of my most enjoyable trips getting to experience the ... Read More
We sailed January 20th on a 10 day southern Caribbean cruise with stops in Costa Rico,Colon.Panama,Cartagena, Aruba, Curacao but missed Costa Rico due to medical emergency.This was one of my most enjoyable trips getting to experience the Panama Canal locks, carriage ride through old Cartagena, quiet shopping day plus lunch at Lucy’s in Aruba then relaxing day in Curacao. We stayed in a balcony cabin room 7058 and found it quite small with two people separated beds. The refrigerator was not able to open door and space to balcony tight. When we sail on Serenade next time will be junior suite. We found the dining room staff and food to be very good. If we needed something not on menu they tried to accommodate our request. The excursions we did were: Panama 8 hr. On ferry through locks to Panama City. In Cartagena the carriage ride through old town. We experienced a lot of street vendors each time our carriage stopped that was annoying. Our son found a nice market plus animal area with monkeys, sloth and birds in our port near ship.Aruba and Curacao were waking leisurely through shops. In Curacao I found best Cuban coffee (cubita dark roast ) on the walk back to ship in store across from ship. A fun trip if you would like to do an different Caribbean cruise and hope to return to visit Puerto Rico. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
My travel bucket list had long included the Panama Canal, both for its continuing commercial importance but also because of its historic engineering importance. It was the chance to see the canal that directed me to this trip. We ... Read More
My travel bucket list had long included the Panama Canal, both for its continuing commercial importance but also because of its historic engineering importance. It was the chance to see the canal that directed me to this trip. We traversed the Canal at night, a pattern that I thought might be a disappointment; it was quite the opposite as the canal is well lighted and one can see the operations of the locks even in the middle of the night. A return trip by bus from the Caribbean side to the Pacific and Panama City gave us a view of the canal in daylight. Costa Rica was an added and special bonus and seeing the flora and fauna of the Pacific rain forests was everything that I could have anticipated. Particularly interesting were the special excursions to a gold mining operation, a sugar processing farm, and a marvelous botanical garden. For the "active" traveler, there were many options including kayaking, snorkeling and more. Taking the trip on a ship (National Geographic Quest) that provided the best small ship accommodations that I have experienced and reasonable accommodations for the solo traveler made this even more special. The meals on board had a variety of selections and even though the chef needs to do a better job of cooking the meats, the food was generally quite good and nutritious. While not, perhaps, my most memorable cruise, this will be high on the list of fond memories for this retiree. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
I choose Holland America because we do not like the mega ships...I like to feel that we are at sea! I thought the food was the best I have had comparing with other cruise lines. The service was outstanding, friendly and fun. I would be ... Read More
I choose Holland America because we do not like the mega ships...I like to feel that we are at sea! I thought the food was the best I have had comparing with other cruise lines. The service was outstanding, friendly and fun. I would be hard pressed to look elsewhere. There was wonderful entertainment in the evening at the Gallery Bar. Two duel pianists played and sang 50's to 90's music. We went twice an evening...really fun!!! The Panama Canal was very interesting and enjoyed seeing the new ports in Mexico. Our dining room wait staff was exceptional and fun (made out first time cruisers with us feel very comfortable). We were lucky enough to draw great tablemates at our large table. Drawbacks. For our taste I thought the entertainment in the Mainstage was just ok. Also, our wifi was very spotty. All around I would give a big thumbs up!!! Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
We sailed on the Holland-America Oosterdam’s 18-day Panama Canal cruise (January 15-February 5, 2020) from San Diego to Fort Lauderdale. My wife and I are in our 70’s, and we are four-star HAL Mariners. We had temperatures that were ... Read More
We sailed on the Holland-America Oosterdam’s 18-day Panama Canal cruise (January 15-February 5, 2020) from San Diego to Fort Lauderdale. My wife and I are in our 70’s, and we are four-star HAL Mariners. We had temperatures that were mostly in the 70’s and 80’s and lots and lots of sunshine. (There was very little rain during these 18 days.) We packed sunscreen and some 30% Deet insect repellent (we did not experience much in the way of mosquitoes, but some of the tours advised using insect repellent). Dining: Before we sailed I noticed that there were some negative reviews about the Oosterdam posted on Cruise Critic. Our experience, however, was mostly positive and often extremely positive. For example, we’ve been on seven HAL cruises, and the food on this one was the best we’ve had. We ate dinner in the Main Dining Room each night except for one night at the Pinnacle Grill (very good), one at the Canaletto (extremely good – in fact, we enjoyed it more than the Pinnacle), and one night when we ordered dinner through Room Service off the Main Dining Room menu. (Since we did not eat at the Lido buffet, I can’t comment on that.) We did take advantage of the Main Dining Room’s Club Orange. It can get you into the Main Dining Room faster (priority seating), though not necessarily faster service once you’re seated. On our cruise it included an additional entrée each meal that was not included on the regular menu. One of our wine stewards (Joey) was especially good. I liked his recommendations. An added bonus was that he made some origami for us. (It was a side talent of his!) The Main Dining Room menus each night included a good mix of well-prepared popular dishes (steak, salmon) and some adventuresome gourmet food with an emphasis on dishes that reflected the ports we were visiting. The soups were outstanding. They were made with flavorful stocks, free of grease, well-seasoned with interesting combinations of ingredients. One negative was that during the first week of the cruise, getting seated in the Dining Room seemed hectic and somewhat disorganized. One night, in fact, they were totally confused as to which table we were being assigned to. As the cruise continued, things got better. I suspect that the staff were aware of the problem and taking steps to fix it. In addition, while always friendly, the serving staff seemed more pressured and harried than on previous cruises. I know that other reviews have found them to be understaffed, and I am inclined to agree. Talks: Edgar Jiménez, HAL’s Mexican Cultural Ambassador, was outstanding. His lectures covered a great deal of Mexican history, culture, geography, and geology and lots of information about the Mexican ports we visited (Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, Huatulco, and Puerto Chiapas). He was enjoyable, entertaining, and a gifted teacher/lecturer. Much less successful, I think, were the talks given by the ship’s cruise director. His presentation on the Panama Canal was particularly disappointing. He admitted that he had never been to the Canal before and was using a PowerPoint and script that had been prepared for him in HAL’s corporate offices in Seattle. I was surprised that a Panama Canal cruise did not bring onboard speakers who were knowledgeable about the history and engineering of the Canal. Transiting the Canal was, of course, the highlight of the cruise. Some of us were up as early as 5:30 a.m., though it wasn’t until 6:30 a.m. that we could start witnessing anything. It takes most of the day to transit the Canal, and throughout the journey the TVs in the rooms and the loudspeakers on the decks broadcast commentary at key points in the transit. I re-read David McCullough’s The Path Between the Seas while I was on this cruise, and I am glad I did. It added a lot to my appreciation of what we were seeing. Entertainment: The Lincoln Center Stage quintet (string quartet plus pianist) was outstanding! They played to mostly packed houses. I liked that they discussed the music they were about to play and why it meant so much to them. We saw a few Mainstage performances. The comedian, Tim, was funny. I liked the dancers, too. The most unforgettable was the live music they provided to accompany a screening of the BBC Planet Earth II video. The nature photography was spellbinding, and the music was the perfect accompaniment to it. We didn’t spend too much time at the piano bar, but the two guys who performed there and their audience seemed to be enjoying themselves. The Internet and HAL’s Navigator App: Our package included Premium Internet Service, and it was mostly great. This was our first experience with loading HAL’s Navigator App on our phone and iPad. The app still needs some work, I believe, but it was helpful, especially since you could access shipboard events from it. I liked that it let me see the day’s dinner menus, though, curiously, it did not include the desserts. (You could see the desserts if you accessed the menu from the room’s TV, however.) In addition, it wasn’t always able to pull up my account, though, again, I could see it on our TV. I hope that future enhancements include being able to pull up such useful information as which location they are disembarking the ship from when we are in port. Since it is not always easy to hear announcements from the captain or cruise director (the Oosterdam’s sound system could use an update!), it would also be helpful to post these announcements to the app (or at least allow you to replay them from the app. The Casino: The big plus was that there was no smoking allowed in the casino, which passengers often traverse in order to get to the Mainstage on Deck 2. I do very little gambling, but on previous cruises I might play blackjack for one or two nights on an 18-day cruise. I didn’t play at all on this cruise because their blackjack table paid only 6 for 5 for a blackjack, instead of the usual 3 for 2 and let dealers hit soft 17’s. Worse yet, the lowest minimum bet was $6. When I asked the bit boss what they paid for a blackjack on a $6 bet, he answered $7. Of course, no serious gambler would ever play blackjack on a cruise ship and I expect the house to have an edge, but this seemed so downright greedy and excessive that I decided not to play. Smoking: Smoking was prohibited in the staterooms and balconies and public areas and was allowed only on one small section of the ship – outside by the Seaview Pool Bar on Deck 9. So this was a great cruise for non-smokers, and a lousy one for heavy smokers. A few other notes: We booked our pre-cruise hotel through HAL and came three nights before to enjoy San Diego. The hotel was the Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina, and, frankly, it was a disappointment. While the staff were friendly, our room was a bit dismal. It overlooked a parking lot in the Main Tower. Something was out of whack with there HVAC system, which meant that the public rooms were uncomfortably cold, and so, too, was our room. It was not a hotel I’d return to. We heard very few complaints from other passengers onboard except for complaints about the time it took to get seated in the Main Dining Room. I noticed that later in the cruise the Maître D’ staff and chefs were going from table-to-table to ask passengers what they thought. They seemed genuinely interested in listening, and I respect that a lot. We appreciated the fact that HAL cruises do not bombard you with lots of intrusive announcements over the ship’s PA system. Like all HAL cruises this was a great choice for an older crowd who want a relaxing experience and like to read, listen to music, play card games, have good conversations with fellow passengers, and eat well. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
This is our 7th cruise.We had a signature suite. Other cruises have been 14 day transatlantic on Celeberity, Princess, and Royal Caribbean. This ranks last on our ratings. Pros: Crew all very friendly, pleasant, helpful and seem to be very ... Read More
This is our 7th cruise.We had a signature suite. Other cruises have been 14 day transatlantic on Celeberity, Princess, and Royal Caribbean. This ranks last on our ratings. Pros: Crew all very friendly, pleasant, helpful and seem to be very happy. Food was very good at first. Canned music was subtle and unobtrusive.Cons: Too many to list but here are the main ones. Ship is very tired and not well maintained.It needs to be retired. The total design of ship is archaic and not very comfortable. Reportably had been refurbished in 2018, but doesn't look like it. Main theater too small to accommodate most of passengers. Dinning room is unattractive and impossible to get seated on their "AnyTime" plan unless you want to eat after 8 or wait 30 minutes plus to be seated. Food was very good at beginning of cruise but has deteriated, however, we have always found something to our liking. Entertainment is very lacking, acts are very mediocre. Only one dance music venue playing only jazz and blues. No dance classes. Enrichment classes very few and far between. Not many on board activities. Several of the ports we stopped at were industrial ports far from the cities, obviously to save port fees. We will not return nor recommend to our friends unless they are looking for just relaxing, reading, and paying big bucks to go on excursions. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
We wanted a cruise where we didn’t have airfare to contend with. We can drive from Phoenix to San Diego, leave our car in a hotel that stores it for free, and take the free shuttle from the Best Western Yacht Harbor ($137 a night) to the ... Read More
We wanted a cruise where we didn’t have airfare to contend with. We can drive from Phoenix to San Diego, leave our car in a hotel that stores it for free, and take the free shuttle from the Best Western Yacht Harbor ($137 a night) to the cruise port. Perfect. This was only seven days but it only cost $1249 so we were very happy with that part of it. We love absolutely everything about this ship except the air-conditioning unit in our room. The food was really good, both in the dining room and the Lido deck, public spaces were lovely, staff were phenomenal, and the ports were typical but fine. But they couldn’t get our room warm. When we’d step from the hallway into our room we immediately needed to wrap up in a blanket. In fact they had so much trouble with the heating/air conditioning (they were there every day working on it) they gave us a $200 credit, which was nice but it didn’t solve the problem. I tend to get cold easier than my husband but he was bothered by it too. But if a cooler room doesn’t bother you, you’d be fine with the ship —honestly we loved everything else about it. Oh and 5 stars ⭐️ for their phenomenal organization getting on and off in San Diego. They made it so quick and simple. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
My issues are mostly with the home office: 1. With an average passenger age of 66, we were required to stand in a long line to get to the line to go through the metal detector to go to the REALLY long line to check in. We stood in lines ... Read More
My issues are mostly with the home office: 1. With an average passenger age of 66, we were required to stand in a long line to get to the line to go through the metal detector to go to the REALLY long line to check in. We stood in lines for more than 3 hours. There were six people to check 4,000 passengers in--and they shut everything down for a 10 minute break while hundreds of us waited. 2. The shore excursions were hit or miss. A few that we took were excellent, most were OK and a couple were terrible. 3. The main dining rooms had maybe three different menus for a 16 night cruise--very little variety. In addition several of the entrees were very dry. 4. The evaluation process was non-existent. At the bottom of one of the daily newsletters was a note telling us that if we didn't get an e-mail, we could send our comments to a PO Box.Of course, there were no e-mails. I'd like to share some of this with the cruise line, but they have made it very clear that they don't want to hear from passengers. Issues with the cruise itself. 1. On-board communication was terrible.I had to call the front desk to find out which deck we would leave from. A fellow passenger mentioned that we could get our towels folded like animals if we asked. 2. No seats were available for several of the theater performances, including the first night, which had been completely booked before anyone boarded (and no one bothered to inform us that we could book in advance). 3. The final breakfast was a disaster. Many of us like a served breakfast before dis-boarding. Of the three main dining rooms, only one was open. Fortunately we were there when it opened and got seats. The line as we left was very long. It took us a hour and fifteen minutes to get our food. With staff and kitchen help for three dining rooms, surely they could have done an adequate job of staffing for the final breakfast rush. So, the cruise started with a terrible first impression and ended with a bad last impression. In between it was O.K. If this is the way Norwegian treats passengers on its largest, newest flagship, I shudder to think of how they treat people on their other ships. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
We took the Norwegian Joy from LA to Miami on Jan 17, 2020 because it went through the Panama Canal, which was on out bucket list. We have done several cruises on various cruise lines, but this was our first Norwegian cruise. It is also ... Read More
We took the Norwegian Joy from LA to Miami on Jan 17, 2020 because it went through the Panama Canal, which was on out bucket list. We have done several cruises on various cruise lines, but this was our first Norwegian cruise. It is also our last Norwegian cruise. Embarking/Disembarking This was the worst embarking experience we have had in 15 cruises. Very long line and wait times. No explanations as to why. Worst embarkation ever. This was the worst disembarking experience we have had in 15 cruises. They got 2 hours behind scheduled disembarking times. Worst disembarkation ever. Service The service on the Joy was not exceptional like other cruise ship. The service in the main dining rooms was excruciatingly slow, not just once in a while but always. And when we did get our food, it was usually not hot. Quite often they would get orders mixed up or not bring a complete order. We were actually surprised because we have never experienced such poor service on a cruise ship before. Food In general, food in the buffet and main dining rooms was disappointing and boring. Not what we have been used to on other cruises. Every night, in all three main dining rooms, for 16 days, we had the same choice of entrees with just one or two different options. Fish, beef, or chicken. We missed having prime rib, duck, lamb, lobster. You had to go to a specialty restaurant to get those. It seems like they do this so that you have to pay extra to upgrade to their specialty restaurants. Some of the beef meals we got were tough and inedible. The same chicken meal ordered on different days were quite different, spicy one time, not the other. The soups were often very salty. Desserts were disappointing as well. Entertainment The entertainment on the Joy was pretty good. Footloose and Elements were excellent. There were some very funny comedians/jugglers. Po the magician was a joke. There is a problem with the theater being way too small for the amount of passengers on the ship. If you got there 30 minutes before the show, you might not get a seat. There was a tribute Beatles band that were very good. The problem with them was that they were featured in a very small venue (50 seats) called the Cavern. We never did get to see them perform in the Cavern, even though we got there an hour before show time on several nights. Very disappointing. We did get to see them in the main theater however. They did a second main theater show but it was exactly same as the first. They have go-carts and laser-tag but you have to pay extra for them. Itinerary Started out bad as the itinerary kept changing in the months before we even left home. The stop in Costa Rica was at a cargo ship yard. Nice view of cargo containers. There was absolutely no touristy things around. You had to pay $15 to get a shuttle to the nearest town (20 miles away). There was a free shuttle to the dock gate, but nothing to see or do there. The Panama Canal crossing was interesting but was not on schedule. Communication Very poor communication on the ship about what was going on. Especially for when non-scheduled events were happening. Most people were puzzled and confused as to what was happening. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
This was our 8th NCL cruise but our first on a large ship. My wife and I were a bit concerned about the size, but were pleasantly surprised to discover that large doesn't necessarily mean crowded and congested. Although there are a ... Read More
This was our 8th NCL cruise but our first on a large ship. My wife and I were a bit concerned about the size, but were pleasantly surprised to discover that large doesn't necessarily mean crowded and congested. Although there are a couple of areas that can get a bit busy at times, particularly the front elevator banks and the Atrium, you could always find a quiet spot to relax and unwind. My wife and I chose this cruise because we hadn't cruised the Mexican Riviera yet and were intrigued by the idea of cruising from coast-to-coast through the Canal. We also thought it would be a good way to escape the cold confines of South Dakota for a couple of weeks. This turned out to be an even better outcome than we could have expected. Due to the unexpected nature of winter weather in the Midwest, we decided to fly out of Omaha, Nebraska, the day before the cruise. This turned out to be a wise decision as the area we departed from experienced a major snow storm the following day. After an uneventful flight from Omaha through Salt Lake City to LA, we arrived just before noon and hired a Lyft driver to drive us to a hotel near the port. The next morning we took another Lyft the remaining 5-10 minutes to the pier. We arrived early around 9:30, so were only the second couple in line waiting to go through Security. As we waited in the covered area outside the Security building, the line behind us began to grow and gradually expanded beyond the covered area. After about an hour, we were finally able to enter the security area and proceed from there to the check-in counters. The check-in counters are arranged by the deck your cabin is on and, being the first-in-line for Deck 10, we were able to walk right up to the counter and were checked-in in about 5 minutes. We quickly found a seat near the embarkation gangway to begin our wait for the boarding call. Evidently, the embarkation must have been delayed longer than expected, because the terminal area finally filled to it's max capacity and they had to shut down the check-in counters. It wasn't too much longer after this, however, that they did start the embarkation process and things seemed to get back on track. As other reviewers have already noted, the Joy is in like-new condition. The pool deck is a little odd in its pool layout due to the retrofit from the China market. However, this does allow for a larger area for the deck loungers, so there never seemed to be a problem finding an open deck chair or lounger. Our Mini-Suite on Deck 10 was just a few doors down from the landing with the forward stairs and elevator banks. This turned out to be an ideal location as it was just 3 decks down to the Theater and a few steps through the elevator banks to The Local. These forward elevator areas do tend to get a bit congested at times, but we found out a little patience and pre-planning can help mitigate some of the frustration you may encounter. We ate in all of the main dining areas (Savor, Taste, Manhattan, Local and Buffet) and found them all to be good to excellent. The food was generally hot and flavorful and we didn't encounter any excessive delays in service. The staff was always friendly and often asked if we had a show or other event we needed to get to. We also ate in several of the specialty restaurants; Q, Cagney's, Ocean Blue and Teppenyaki (twice). They were all excellent and the service was impeccable. This was also our first time participating in a Cruise Critic Roll Call. Although we didn't participate in all the events the group set up, we did attend the sail-away get together in Spice H20 and the M&M the next day at sea which was held in the District Brew House. We were particularly impressed with the effort that NCL made to make this event thoroughly enjoyable. We were met at the door with specially prepared fruit smoothies and the Cruise Director, Dan Dan, and several of the ship's officers were there to greet and welcome us to the cruise. This is also the first cruise that I can remember seeing the ship's officers, including the Captain, out and about the ship mingling with and conversing with the passengers on a regular basis. This added a nice personal touch to the cruise that truly makes you feel at home and a part of the Norwegian family. On the entertainment side of things, there are so many things to do it's hard to fit them all in, even on a 16 day cruise. We made reservations for Footloose and Elements in advance of the cruise as recommended, and both were exceptionally well done. We also saw the comedians (at The Social and Theater), the ventriloquist (Phil Hughes), the hypnotist (Doug MacCraw), the magician (PC Lai), the Beatles tribute band, and the comedian juggler (Dan Bennet). They were all very good, especially Dan Bennet, who we had seen on a previous NCL cruise and thoroughly enjoyed his show. His rapid-fire wit and commentary will have you struggling to keep up with his non-stop narration and juggling prowess. The performers in the Atrium every day and evening were very good, but the volume was often louder that we would have liked. We did not visit the Arcade, Galaxy Pavilion or the Casino, but did try the Speedway; which was fun but a bit on the expensive side at $15 per person. We used our $50 per cabin credit for most of our port excursions through NCL. The only exception was a 10 in 1 Ultimate Puntarenas Highlights & Lunch in Costa Rica with Thumbs Up tours. This is an exceptional experience with up-close encounters with Capuchin monkeys, Scarlet Macaws, crocodiles and a scenic hilltop lunch. It's also inexpensive with very knowledgeable and personable tour guides. The weather was fantastic throughout the cruise with sunny skies and smooth sailing conditions. Although the sun could get quite intense during the middle of the day, there always seemed to be a cooling breeze and it was always pleasant in the shade. The day we cruised through the Canal was partly cloudy to mostly sunny, so that helped to keep the heat and humidity in check for the most part. The only thing that kept this cruise from being completely perfect was the sickness that started to permeate the ship toward the end of the cruise. There was evidently enough respiratory and intestinal issues going through the ship, along with the Corona Virus news, that the crew started taking precautionary steps to make sure everyone stayed as healthy as possible. Consequently, all condiments and place settings were removed from the tables in the Buffet, and all the food and drinks in the Buffet area were served by staff wearing rubber gloves. We did notice that there were several guests that had persistent coughs and talked to some that had been quarantined on the ship for a period of time due to illness. On a large ship with nearly 4000 passengers, it would be expected that there would be some illness in a population that large but, the previous Norovirus incident on the Joy and the current Corona Virus scare, had the NCL staff taking no chances (to their credit). All-in-all, this cruise exceeded our expectations and we would like to thank NCL for making this a truly enjoyable experience. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
My Husband and I were looking for a winter getaway from the cold of the Midwest and choose the Panama Canal Cruise because of the January departure from Los Angeles, Ca. This was one of those bucket list trips for us. There were lines ... Read More
My Husband and I were looking for a winter getaway from the cold of the Midwest and choose the Panama Canal Cruise because of the January departure from Los Angeles, Ca. This was one of those bucket list trips for us. There were lines to enter the cruise terminal but after check in there were seats for sitting while waiting. Entering the ship went pretty smooth and we were pleased how our bags and pre-ordered water were in the room. Our cabin was small but nice. On a couple of cleanings our cabin steward forgot to bring us any towels but that was okay as they came within a moment after calling them. The entertainment was top notch with Footloose, Elements, and a variety of entertainers. The main dining room was poor (The Manhattan). The service had no teamwork and we were without water refills and assistance with menu questions, wrong beverage coffee. It took way too long 2 hours for the little that we ordered. The food had tough meat and a menu that rarely changed. We did enjoy The Local which prepared food delivered to table and also The Savor and The Taste. The menus there repeated often as well but the food was okay and the dessert options better. The buffet at the Garden Cafe was usually not hot and sometimes the cold items not cold. After the 9th day they started removing salt, pepper, sugar, and silverware from tables Then a couple of days later no was was to serve their own food and ropes partitioned people from food items with staff handing out all silverware, plates napkins, stir sticks, and food. We were no longer asked to use the hand sanitizer or met at the door with washy, washy staff but rather stood in long lines to use a sink, soap and water. We all knew there was a problem of unknown illnesses and people quit eating there causing long lines at the other restaurants. We ended up eating some protein bars from home rather than risk the outbreak. Meals were now being delivered to rooms and we were told that stewards had less rooms to clean than when the cruise began. People everywhere were coughing and one day visitors were seen onboard wearing guest passes in Guatemala. That made us think CDC under the circumstances amid hearing on the news about the Corona virus. We were never told what illnesses were happening but elevators and stairs were no longer busy. People were out on deck in the air or at the observation deck and at the evening show only. Although the staff were cleaning constantly it did not seem to help. Disembarking was a disaster with handicapped and the rest of the cruisers all leaving at once. There were long lines and from cabin to bus took over 3 hours. There was only one gangway for all to depart on. (Norwegian blamed customs for the delays, but customs went very smoothly for us). After getting to the bus it took another 3 hours to travel 5 miles to the airport, get off the bus, walk over 30 minutes in the airport take a tram to the car rental place, rent the car and find it in the car rental parking garage. Total time from Cabin to leaving in car rental garage was 6 hours.) Because of the quality of the food, variety lacking menus, problems with communications from staff to what we were encountering, (people were sent off 3 different times from ship for medical problems to hospitals) we would not sail Norwegian again. Others we met who were Norwegian cruisers only or multiple times with Norwegian vowed never to use them again after this experience. We could not endorse them to others as well. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
We were on this cruise as part of a tour group to experience going through the Panama Canal. Therefore, most of the planning and details were taken care of for us. When we got to the ship, there was a long line to board, but once it ... Read More
We were on this cruise as part of a tour group to experience going through the Panama Canal. Therefore, most of the planning and details were taken care of for us. When we got to the ship, there was a long line to board, but once it got moving, it was slow but relatively steady. We were more than happy with our balcony suite, mid-ship on deck 13. Plenty of room, comfy bed, and great shower once we figured it out. Appreciated immediate hot water! Our steward was friendly and accommodating once we bridged the communication gap. Only concern was when announcements were made, we could not hear them so just hoped it wasn’t anything important. We knew it was probably OK when we were awakened at 5am by the captain letting us know we were about to enter the locks!! Dining: Manhattan, Savor, and Taste all basically have the same menu. The buffet was pretty typical; variety was there but, as usual, getting foods hot was nearly impossible. The Local was fine when we just wanted a fresh quick bite to eat. Since we were given five specialty dining meals, we ate at Q Steakhouse (portions were huge and the food we chose was excellent), American Diner (a nice surprise, not busy, food we chose was excellent, and the server wrapped up our desserts to take with us because we were so full!), Cagney’s (very good), Ocean Blue (very good), La Cucina (OK). To be fair, I am rather picky about my foods so many choices did not appeal to me. We never had any issues getting a table. Maybe it’s because we are early eaters, but there were always lots of empty tables. There was always plenty to do aboard ship, though most of it was not of interest to us. However, we enjoyed each day. Footloose, Elements, and Beatles were very good. Only one pool for adults and it kind of felt like the lounge chairs were packed together like sardines and, as usual, people “claimed” them early and we often saw them not being used for two+ hours. I don’t think we ever met a staff member who didn’t greet us with a smile. The team worked very hard to keep everything clean and sanitized which is an overwhelming task and even with their precautions, there obviously were health issues on board. Getting off and on the ship for shore excursions was pretty well organized and painless. Enjoyed the ones we took. Just a little unnerving when the catamaran taking us into Cartagena had the entire crew wearing breathing masks! Not sure we would take such a long cruise again, but overall we enjoyed the experience. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
This ship was very clean and well maintained. The electronic door openers may have seemed like a good idea but when you are trying to keep germs at a minimum, having everyone touch the openers to open doors is not a good idea. They need to ... Read More
This ship was very clean and well maintained. The electronic door openers may have seemed like a good idea but when you are trying to keep germs at a minimum, having everyone touch the openers to open doors is not a good idea. They need to post a sign by these openers and tell people to use their elbow or the back of their hands to activate them. In general, I feel that all NCL cruise ship food in the buffet and free dining rooms is lackluster. Every night, in all three dining rooms, for 16 days, we had the same choice of entrees with just one or two different options. I feel like they scrimp on their free food so that you pay to upgrade to their specialty restaurants. The “Elements” show was very entertaining but all the other entertainment options were lackluster. The Speedway was unique and a fun experience. The slides were fun and the pools nice. I wouldn’t want to be on this ship with a lot of kids because the adult pool is small and it was difficult to find chairs in the pool area. The Panama Canal transit was amazing! This was certainly the highlight of the trip! Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
We chose this cruise because of the ports offered. On being to Panama. Thai was an 11 night cruise. The ship was elegantly decorated. The crew was not supportive at all. Room was that of other cruise lines. Lacing cabin clean. One perk I ... Read More
We chose this cruise because of the ports offered. On being to Panama. Thai was an 11 night cruise. The ship was elegantly decorated. The crew was not supportive at all. Room was that of other cruise lines. Lacing cabin clean. One perk I always enjoy is the towel animals offered on other cruise lines. Not here. If you are looking to rest and just enjoy the ports this is the cruise. there are few activities for days at sea to keep you occupied. There were times we woke up to the smell of fumes in our cabin. The shows were ok if there was singing and dancing but the comedy shows lost a lot because they were done in at least five languages. I have never walked out of shows before but did twice on this cruise. The water park deck was always so packed there was no place to sit. There seemed to be more guest than seating anywhere on the ship. The food was the same for the entire cruise. Very little variance in menu. Not the best and at times cold. The dining experience was different. The waiters seemed lost most of the time and because frustrated often. By then end of the cruise they seemed more relaxed with us but they could use more training. Or their fault. Food in the main dining room at night wasn’t much different from the buffet. Just different atmosphere. Embarkation and debarkation was easier than most cruise lines. No problems there. We bought the easy drink package which was good enough. Limited selections of beer but we were able to get Coke’s and bottled water. That was a plus. We booked one excursion through the Panama Canal and it wasn’t a disappointment. Just getting off the boat which was a nightmare and back to ship. Poor planning of the company but overall very good. Ocean cay was a nice island but still very new. It was cold on the beach which wasn’t the fault of MSC but not enjoyable. The island has great potential. We got what we paid for and couldn’t expect much more. We took this cruise because of the ports. I would never cruise with this cruise line again because the service was sorely lacking. You make the best of what you get and it wasn’t great but overall the friends we made helped make the cruise. There were not many American speaking passengers and they were very rude. I have never come across such rude people on a cruise and the crew was not much different. They acted as if they smiled their face may crack. If this is how they plan on treating their customers they won’t be in business long. I have told everyone I know who cruises to avoid this cruise line. They were actually thinking about it. They said they would look elsewhere because of my experience. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020

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