This was the third NCL and fifth cruise overall for DDP and me. Previously we have cruised on Celebrity to Alaska, NCL Sun to the Western Caribbean, Atlantis (aboard X) to the Eastern Caribbean and this past April aboard NCL Jade on the ... Read More
This was the third NCL and fifth cruise overall for DDP and me. Previously we have cruised on Celebrity to Alaska, NCL Sun to the Western Caribbean, Atlantis (aboard X) to the Eastern Caribbean and this past April aboard NCL Jade on the Atlantis/Alexandria/Istanbul Eastern Med voyage. This was our first trip to the Mexican Riviera. Joining us were DDP's Mom, Stepfather, Brother, Sis-in-Law and step niece (14 yo). This was the parent's second cruise and the rest's first.
Precruise We departed RDU aboard Delta on Friday afternoon and with the exception of a 45 minute delay departing Atlanta had an uneventful flight arriving at LAX around 9:30pm. I had prearranged a Karmel shuttle($81 for private van for 4) from the airport to the Doubletree in San Pedro ($80+taxes/fees=$101 per night via Priceline). Karmel took a little bit longer to get to us than I had hoped, but traffic at LAX was crazy. We left the airport right at 10:15 and pulled up to the Doubletree about 20 minutes later. The rooms were nice though they must have some sort of mildew or other odor problem in the lobby as the air there was perfumed with something. Didn't bother me, but anyone with issues related to perfume might have a problem checking in. We signed up for the Doubletree's complementary shuttle to the airport right after checkin. They start their shuttles at 11am and run every 14 minutes. The only ones that had room for all seven of us was the first one so that's the one we took.
Saturday morning, DDP and I took the complementary Doubletree shuttle into downtown San Pedro and had breakfast at the Egg and Waffle - very tasty - unusual dishes. DDP had a Beef Stroganoff omelet and I had a Sombrero - it was a tortilla topped with potatoes, chicken ranchero sauce, eggs and of course cheese - be sure to ask for some of their salsa - it like every thing else was very tasty. It had been our plan to order a waffle to share, but the meals were so big, we canceled that order. If we are ever there again, we will split a plate so we can try the waffles. After breakfast, we walked to the Von's Grocery store which was one block away and purchased sodas, tonic and limes to carry on board. We then called the Doubletree and the shuttle picked us up about five minutes later. Embarkation We all loaded on the Doubletree Shuttle and left a few minutes before 11am and were at the embarkation hall no later than 11:05, we were allowed to immediately register - there were no lines at that point. We then were sent(11:20am?) to an area with chairs to await boarding. They said it would be about noon. We went ahead and took our group embarkation picture since the two parental units were going aboard with the special assists. They got to wait in the area with the "suites". Sometime before noon, they started letting folks go through security and with the exception of making us go to "that line over there" just as we were getting to the end of the line we were in, it was uneventful. We boarded, had our glass of welcome aboard champagne and since DDP and my Deck 10 room wasn't yet ready, headed to Deck 12 to use our welcome aboard "buy 2 get 1 free" cocktail coupon. We were having our first margarita at exactly 12:30. The others who had mini suites on Deck 11 were allowed to drop their stuff off at the room and then they joined us.
Ship & Cabin Despite other reviewer's concerns with a lack of cleanliness and wear and tear, we didn't see any signs of anything beyond what would one expect on a not-brand-new ship. Throughout the week, the maintenance folks were painting, varnishing and cleaning. Two or three times I saw them cleaning carpets and on one of our port days we got a notice that they would be cleaning our balcony. DDP and I were in a BA on Deck 10 and the other folks had two minis on Deck 11. All were what was expected. Our steward and stewardess were friendly and helpful but not overly so. We had to ask a couple of time for them to refill our ice bucket but it was done quickly. The folks on Deck 11 spoke highly of their stewards - they apparently provided superior service…for which I understand they were financially rewarded! This was the first time we had experienced the three compartment bathroom. On Jade, we were in an inside and only the shower was separate. While the concept of a separate toilet room is a good one, I don't think its execution fulfills the promise. As a six foot seven inch tall, 300 pound guy, I would have preferred to have the extra three inches that the door takes up - especially given the door stops short of the floor so it doesn't really provide much separation from the sink area.
Entertainment The show the first night was disappointing - it was basically a few of the singers from around the ship being introduced and singing a song. However, the Andrew Lloyd Weber show the second night was very entertaining. We also enjoyed Second City's stage show but the adult version held later in the week wasn't nearly as funny. As always, the funniest shows were those that involved the other passengers - The Newlywed and the Perfect Couple shows were both a hoot and a half.
Cruise Critic Meet & Greet We had a small but active roll call on Cruise Critic. I contacted the Star's Group Coordinator and they provide us with a meeting space on our first sea day. We had about 10 folks show up to put names to faces. We were joined by the Hotel Director, the Food & Beverage Director, the Restaurant Manager and the Housekeeping Manager. They spent close to an hour with us answering everyone's questions. It was interesting to learn that they read Cruise Critic - the Hotel Manager remarked that they pay attention to it and mentioned Ocean Dreaming's recent upsell to the Penthouse. Ports & Excursions DDP and I have determined that we enjoy being on our own while in port so we did not take any of the ships excursions. However, other members in our party loved the America's Cup in Cabo, a daylong snorkeling -booze cruise in Puerto Vallarta, ziplining and a city tour in Mazatlan.
In Cabo, DDP and I took it easy and let everyone else line up for tender tickets, we waited until open call, which was about 1pm (we docked at 11) and then wandered around town, bought a tshirt or two and headed back to the ships ahead of the crowds. I had tried to get a group together to do a snorkel trip on Yael but couldn't get enough to make the trip.
In Mazatlan, DDP and I taxied ($4 if you catch it on the street, we were quoted $8 inside the port gates) to the cathedral - it's really interesting - hints of European cathedrals but so different - I had never experienced statues of the Saints being dressed in REAL clothes! We then walked back towards the ship making a stop at the restored theatre. After our morning of "culture" we took advice from others on Cruise Critic and walked to the dock and took a small boat ($2RT) across the channel to Stone Island. There we tried to grab a chair at Carmelita's or Malaoy's - we weren't sure which we had chosen, alas, after we sat down and ordered a beer we realized that we were at Pipi's a small restaurant in-between the big boys! Oh well, we enjoyed our day, swimming, sunning, shading under their umbrella, eating cerviche', grilled garlic shrimp and drinking 6 Pacificos (total bill was $37) - of course the margaritas next door at Malaoy's looked mighty tasty! Next time we will pay closer attention before we sit down. After a wonderful day, we walked back to the ship using our return ticket to cross the channel. It takes about 30 minutes total both directions to and from the ship. Very easy walk but for anyone who needs assistance it might be a little tough - getting in and out of the little boat is hard.
In Puerto Vallarta, DDP and I along with some friends we had met onboard at the nightly "Friends of Dorothy" get-together, shared a cab ($12 for all 4) from the port to downtown where we walked along the Malicon. This is a great walkway along the beach with sculpture, incredible sandcastles folks are building and at one point tower dancers. After crossing over the river, we stopped at a beachside place and had margaritas…really STRONG margaritas but very enjoyable ones. At this point, DDP and took a cab back to the ship, picked up his parents and cabbed to a restaurant that friends from San Diego who vacation in PV recommended. Ay Charumba sits above PV with a great view. We sat under a roofed terrace enjoying the view, homemade tortillas and salsa (I actually watched the cook chop for about 30 minutes making a fresh batch), delicious food and oh, yeah, those margaritas again. DDP had a whole snapper ($20) that was simply grilled while I had the best shrimp fajitas ($18) I have ever tasted. The parents shared a lobster and shrimp special. It was about 80 bucks but it had three lobsters and about 24 shrimp on it. It would have been enough for all four of us! I But they ate it all and couldn't stop talking about finally getting a really good lobster - she had tried them on the ship and wasn't satisfied. Either of the dishes DDP and I could have easily served two. After lunch, we taxied to the nh Kystal Hotel, where at the recommendation of other Cruise Critic folks, I had made reservations for massages. Wow, what a fantastic way to spend $40 a person! Seventy five minutes of bliss. If we had of wanted to stay and enjoy the hotel's pool we could have, but instead since it was close to six o'clock, we headed back to the ship.
Hard to say which was the better day - Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta - but both were definitely wonderful ways to spend the day.
Food After cruising on several NCL ships, we have determined that while the food in the main dining rooms is very good and one doesn't' have to spend any extra, we enjoy budgeting to spurge with some meals in the specialty restaurants too. This trip we ate in the Asian one once - I had the fusion meal while DDP and niece loaded up on AYCE sushi. Everyone enjoyed the meal; the hot and sour soup was especially good. They have changed the ice cream dessert from how it was served on Jade. There it was simply the ice cream, albeit interesting flavors. On Star, the ice cream was wrapped in pastry - uncooked it seemed- rice maybe? Anyway, it didn't add anything to the flavor and the texture was a bit un-nerving. Next trip it will be the tapioca for me!
We enjoyed dinner in Soho twice - once as a substitute for LeBistro from our anniversary package (thank you Restaurant Manager Monique who we met at the meet and greet for arranging that) and again as our final dinner on board. What a surprise Soho was. Others on this site have talked about how terrible it was, however, we found it to be one of the best meals we have had whether on a ship or not. DDP had the rack of lamb twice it was so good. I had the veal chop the first time and the filet the second. Both were great but the veal chop especially so. Not to be missed appetizers include the tuna tartare dish and the scallops with guacamole dish. While the cheese tray was tasty, the other desserts left something to be desired. The service here was top notch - some of that may be due to the fact that the restaurant was relatively empty and because Monique had stopped by our table to say hello.
We used our 2-4-1 coupons the first night in Cagney's and had a good meal. Both the service and the food were better than it had been in Cagney's on Jade. We lunched in Versailles once and had two dinners(including Thanksgiving) in Aqua. All were very good. For Thanksgiving, they had a traditional dinner along with other choices. After an early dinner, we went up to the Garden Market and grabbed a few slices of freshly roasted turkey, some cranberry sauce and some sliced bread and treated ourselves to a turkey sandwich later in the evening…just like at home. This was one of our few visits to the buffet. Due to the amount of children on board, it was a madhouse so when we did visit, we tended to zip in, grab something and take it either back to our balcony or out on the pool deck to eat.
The ship offers balcony cabins and above access to Aqua for breakfast each day except the last. We took advantage of this - its part buffet - fruit, yogurt, pastries, lox, etc combined with a menu you order from - the menu includes omelets, eggs Benedict, meats, potato sides, pancakes and French toast. It was a nice perk as it was much quieter than other venues - well except Cagney's I guess…some day I will make it into a suite and get to try that out!
Issues I can't say enough what a great job the crew and staff did to make the trip enjoyable given the number of guests. However, there were a few missteps, which I hope were caused by being overwhelmed by the numbers. DDP's step father lost his cane in security during embarkation. It wasn't realized until after they were aboard ship, so the desk had them fill out paperwork and said they would return it to him. After not hearing from them, prior to going ashore in Cabo, I inquired at the desk how to say "cane" in Spanish as we planned on buying a new one. The lady at the desk asked why I needed to know, after explaining the lost cane, she said hold on a minute, disappeared and came back with the cane. It had been in lost and found the whole time despite having his name on it and filling out the paperwork. For our final dinner in Soho, the seven of us were seated at a table that would have best seated five but they were full that night, so they couldn't move us. Similar small issues happened throughout the trip - nothing terrible, just annoying.
Disembarkation I had lots of trepidation about this aspect, given the horror stories of others from recent cruises. Thankfully, our worries turned out to be for naught. We were scheduled to dock at 7 with expectation that express departure would commence before eight. After lugging our and the elderly parents luggage on the way out, we elected to use the new BAGs program. What a joy it was. For $19.95, the ship, through BAGS, an outside vendor, checks you in with your airline, provides your boarding pass and a luggage tag. You put this tag on your luggage on your bag the night before, set it outside your door before bed and don't have to touch it again until you get to your home airport. DDP and I usually use our roll aboards and never check luggage, but if you need or want to do so, this is the way to do it! One thing to know, the tag they give you onboard won't be the actual luggage tag - it apparently gets it to BAGS and then they put on the correct one. This worried me a bit…for no reason thank goodness.
We arrived in San Pedro early, they started tying us up before seven, and about 7:15 they started requesting (deck by deck) all non US citizens to make their way to the lounge for immigration clearance. No one else had to go through customs on the ship. The rest of us could either wait in our rooms or in public areas. About 7:30 they announced that those who had chosen express debarkation could make their way to the two gangways. This was a bit crowded, the elevators were a nightmare, but since we didn't have bags it wasn't bad for us. We started to leave about 7:50 and were off the ship by 8:25. Customs was a breeze - hand them the form, hear "welcome home" and through the door we went.
The prearranged Karmel shuttle was scheduled for 8:30 but we had to call once we were outside and it took about 15 minutes, we arrived at LAX shortly thereafter and were through security and at the gate at 9:35am for our 1pm flight! Shucks - we could have slept in. In the future, I would probably try Primetime Shuttle - they had tons of vans lined up and waiting when we arrived to port so they might have been quicker and I wouldn't be in such a rush to get off the ship.
Summary All in all a great cruise! The price couldn't be beat - unfortunately, everyone else and their mom and kids thought so too! The ship, food and service were fine. The ports were enjoyable but not too much work. While I doubt we do a thanksgiving cruise again because of how crowded it was, I highly recommend NCL and Star! Read Less