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926 Norwegian (NCL) Panama Canal & Central America Cruise Reviews

We booked the shuttle through NCL to pick us up at LAX, and they never showed up..I called NCL from the airport and we were left on hold for almost an hour! Finally got a shuttle outside to the ship, on our own and was one of the first ... Read More
We booked the shuttle through NCL to pick us up at LAX, and they never showed up..I called NCL from the airport and we were left on hold for almost an hour! Finally got a shuttle outside to the ship, on our own and was one of the first ones at the port to embark. We did our pre-registration online, and it ended up taking 45 minutes to check us in, because the workers didn't know how to use the new software, and had to enter everyone manually! People were still not checked in until late in the early evening. Once we were on, the ship is beautiful! The ship was spotless. I love that they have you sanitize your hands before you enter, and all throughout the ship. I liked the atrium, very tall and the skylight went all the way to the top. We had an inside cabin, the biggest of any ship I had ever experienced. I'm not one to complain about food on a cruise, because of all the choice. Well, it was the worst food ever! The buffet was so small and full of fried finger foods and there was no choice. Everything looked unappetizing (and I love food)..The only plus was the dessert section, which was bigger than the buffet itself. In the morning for breakfast, the eggs looked like soup. The main dining rooms were only good 2 nights. The choices were strange, and we left unsatisfied. I recommend the steak..there was no lobster or prime rib offered on this cruise. The best was the Pacific Heights Cooking Light Restaurant, no charge, and delicious! Blew the other dining away. No chocolate buffet was disappointing. Entertainment was fantastic. the best shows I have seen. Disembarking was the best of any ship. Read Less
Sail Date April 2004
Here is some background on our group. We had six members in our group with a wide range of ages. My parents are in their early 80's, my wife and I are in our late 40's and our two sons are age 15 and 19. My parents have been on ... Read More
Here is some background on our group. We had six members in our group with a wide range of ages. My parents are in their early 80's, my wife and I are in our late 40's and our two sons are age 15 and 19. My parents have been on 21 prior cruises and my wife and I have been on 5. Most of our cruises have been on Princess, Royal Caribbean and Holland America. This is our first cruise with NCL. We choose this cruise for the timing of its' itinerary through the Panama Canal. Mainly for our boys who are on summer vacation from school. We were a little apprehensive about taking an inaugural cruise, expecting a lot of major problems but to our surprise we experienced minimal issues. We really enjoyed this cruise and felt that the Pride of America crew provided outstanding service. If you are a person who lets little things bother you, you probably would not feel the same way about this cruise. We looked at the bigger picture and didn't let some of the minor things get to us. I would recommend this ship and would not hesitate to sail on NCL in the future. Listed below are some of the positive things we felt about the ship and some areas that needed improvement. POSITIVES: 1. Service provided by the crew was outstanding. From the dining room service, bars ,cabin attendant, the entertainment and ship's officers all went out of their way to provide excellent service. 2. Pride of America is a beautiful and very well appointed. Especially in the dining rooms and in the common areas. 3. All American crew. No language barriers.!!! Who says Americans don't work hard! This is the hardest working crew we've experienced. 4. Teen program was the best we've had on any other ship. 5. The food was not the best we've ever had, but it was above average. 6. Shore excursions were well organized and managed. Very professional guides and very knowledgeable especially in Costa Rica. 7. The 2 Broadway shows were well done. Billy Mullen, WT Greer were excellent performers. Comedians were average. The cruise directors Rich and Shona did a very nice job keeping things organized and flowing. 8. The photographers were excellent, especially Michael who was a real perfectionist took some outstanding pictures of our family. 9. Meeting up with all of our Cruise Critic friends and having a great time. A special thanks to Nancy for organizing our group and going the extra mile to make sure we had special attention. 10. The ship was spotless. There was a major effort by the crew to keep the ship clean and spotless. Some people complained about dirty knives and forks; we personally never encountered any issues regarding silverware. 11. Freestyle dining was our first experience and we enjoyed having the flexibility of eating at our convenience. 12. Good value for the money. Negatives: 1. The 4th of July celebration was weak. Only a 45 minute party late a night out by the pool was very disappointing. This ship was named Pride of America and was the first US flagged ship in 50 years, NCL should have made a bigger splash on 4th of July. 2  Air conditioning in cabins were still being worked on as we cruised. Some rooms were hot while others were cold. Ours was an ice-box and we compensated by opening our cruise cabin sliding door to the balcony. 3. No navigation information on the ship or on TV. This was disappointing because we never knew where we were at any given time. We also didn't hear any of the announcements in our cabins or on TV, this could possibly be a safety issue. We had to step outside our cabins to hear announcements. 4. A little bit of a hole for college age students ages 18 to early 20s. 5. Not much they can do about cabin size, but felt it was the smallest balcony cabin we've had especially since there were three people in ours. 6. Although we really enjoyed Costa Rica, Panama Canal and Cabo San Lucas we Roatan Island could have been skipped or replaced with a better port. 7. Longer stay in Cabo San Lucas, 5 hours was not enough especially with having to tender people in. 8. The specialty restaurants with a cover charge bothered us a little. We know this is the trend in the cruise industry but felt that we were being nicked and dimed on the cover charges. The bottom line is we all had a very nice time and would sail with NCL again. Read Less
Sail Date June 2004
I took this cruise with my husband. We took the 7 day Alaska cruise on this same ship last year, and enjoyed it so much that we decided to take a longer cruise. I can't say enough about the service we received. Everyone was so ... Read More
I took this cruise with my husband. We took the 7 day Alaska cruise on this same ship last year, and enjoyed it so much that we decided to take a longer cruise. I can't say enough about the service we received. Everyone was so attentive to our needs and very friendly. After only two days, we were on a first name basis with almost everyone who served us. Embarkation was a breeze. After arriving at the airport, we were put on a bus to the pier. From the pier, after our luggage was offloaded and checked by us it was minutes until we were on the ship. The itinerary was excellent! We had fun at all the ports. We booked tours at only two of the ports, the others we explored on our own. There was something to do every minute of everyday on the ship. The food was excellent, we ate in the restaurants every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We only used the buffets for snacks and such. The specialty restaurants are worth the extra charge. Where else can you have a 4 course meal in a really nice French or Italian restaurant for only $15 per person? The entertainment was really good too! The comedians, the bands, the shows - all were FABULOUS! Debarkation was easy too, just wait until your color tag is called and you're off the ship in minutes! Overall, I have to say that we had a wonderful time and will definitely cruise with Norwegian again. As Fabio (one of the entertainers) would say - EXCITING - NO? Read Less
Sail Date October 2004
My husband and I sailed the FIRST true cruise through the Panama Canal on June 25th. We weren't the "Regis and Kelly" show guests nor did we receive a "special invitation" for a 2-night preview. We were full-fare ... Read More
My husband and I sailed the FIRST true cruise through the Panama Canal on June 25th. We weren't the "Regis and Kelly" show guests nor did we receive a "special invitation" for a 2-night preview. We were full-fare paying passengers. Embarkation.. not a problem. I wouldn't give it a 6, but personnel was friendly and made it less stressful. This was our sixth cruise and we've had it worse. The ship itself as far as appearance goes is very impressive, once inside. What was suppose to be a memorable trip for us, especially since we've been dreaming of cruising the Panama Canal for sometime, turned into 12 days of regrets. Once in the stateroom, we discovered traces of previous guests. They were given to a crew member that happened to be walking by because it was total chaos on that ship at that time. Our neighbors discovered dirty underwear in a drawer along with a disgusting bowel movement in their toilet. After numerous calls for housekeeping, they used the restroom in the public areas. The dirty underwear were never picked up so they were tossed by the elevator hoping some crew member walking by would do their job. We heard so many similar complaints from other passengers. Aside from the housekeeping, the a/c was uncontrollable or they didn't know what the heck they were doing. Taking it to the other end, we were informed that an elderly couple down the hall from us had no power in their room for a day. That makes everything else seem trivial. Our safe malfunctioned on the 2nd day. After numerous crew members were called in to check it out, ship security finally handled the situation. It took him almost four hours to rectify because orders on what to do had to come from Miami. The safe had to eventually be drilled out and replaced. There were numerous complaints on safes, as well. Other passengers that had the same problem were told they could not replace their safe and they would be able to use one obtained from their office. A little inconvenient, isn't it when one has to go down to reception to get something from the safe! The Freestyle iTV was not operational. There was no navigational system available on TV to inform us of our location. Overall, the cabins are very small with only a few drawers and a very tiny closet. The bathroom is also tiny. I'm a small person and I found it difficult to move around in it. The restaurants...Our first day, we went to the Cadillac Diner, waited about 10 minutes for a seat and an hour and a half for our meal. That was very disappointing. We didn't go back there until the last full day of our cruise, hoping that service had improved. What a joke. We were seated right away but waited AGAIN an hour and a half for our meal. Well, at least my meal. I ordered a hamburger (well done) and when it was brought to me, was still pink and soggy in the middle. What could they have done in an hour and half !?!?!?! My husband had been served 20 minutes prior to my meal being served and this just ruined the entire meal for both of us. Service...what does it say when the maitre D' is clearing tables while his crew members are standing around talking ? Sounds like bad management to me, and not at this level. It goes up to the top. Someone up there that should be overseeing this entire operation isn't doing HIS job. We went to the Taste of Italy on our last night and that was a disappointment, not to mention a pain in the belly. I consumed bad food that had me wanting to be sucked up by that vacuum line in the toilets. I was too sick to move and if I moved I felt even worse. We usually ate at the Aloha Cafe because we didn't feel that we should have to pay for the specialty restaurants but this was at times unbearable too. There were gas fumes that overcame the rear of the back of the ship. We heard passengers complaining that the fumes went all the way down to their cabins on deck 5. The Aloha Cafe is on deck 11. That is totally unacceptable. The other complaint is that the some of the food in the Aloha Cafe was not labeled. My husband has an allergy to shellfish and almost served himself fettucine but when he asked what the sauce contained, he was told that it was a white sauce with some sort of shellfish. That would have been tragic had he not asked. They had one working ice cream machine, which was a joke. The coffee machines were another joke. They were either down or needed coffee. Once I was told to go to the other side of the ship if I wanted coffee. That was the only working coffee machine at the time. After trying other restaurants, we finally decided just to bear it and eat at the Aloha Cafe. The wait was too long in the main dining rooms and at times the food was just mediocre. Not what one would expect from a main dining room. The shore excursions were almost sold out when we went down to book on our first day. We ended up with the leftovers that no one else wanted. I guess we should have booked on-line but without knowing more about the excursions, one is hesitant. Our stop in Roatan could have been skipped and wouldn't have mattered. Costa Rica on both sides was ok. The Panama Canal is what were mainly interested in and that was something that I'll never forget. Our stop in Cabo San Lucas was VERY short. By the time the tenders got the last of passengers on land, they had 2 hours to run around and be back to make NCL deadline. This was one stop that most of the passengers were very upset about. I found the tenders to be extremely dangerous in the loading and unloading. I don't believe NCL was prepared. The spa....the massage that I booked was great, however, when entering the ladies changing room I found a male crew member that was in there (possibly cleaning?). There was a female crew member fixing her hair and neither one of them batted on eye when I walked in. Is this procedure? Well, maybe I expected too much from NCL. Needless to say, I didn't want to interrupt their routine so I just walked out. My husband, on the other hand, had to go to our stateroom to shower after getting his massage. He asked for soap and towels because the men's changing room had none. Needless to say, he waited quite a while and ended up walking out in a an oil-covered body. What a sight !! The entertainment...The guests entertainers were great, especially pianist, Juan Pablo. NCL entertainers were just mediocre. We attended 2 of the 3 shows they performed and found them to be lacking something. I understand this is a very young crew and they're just getting started, so perhaps quite a few years down the line there will be an improvement. However, they do get an "A" for effort. The Captain and other heads of departments appeared before the passengers in what was called "Captains Profile". This happened just a few days before the end of the cruise. The was a short question and answer session where most of these complaints were voiced. The a/c dilemma, we were told, was "being worked on" and the gas fume dilemma was also "being worked on". Other complaints were answered by merely saying that this was a new crew and everyone was doing their best. There were still many kinks to work out and eventually it would happen. We have traveled other cruise lines before and I can honestly say that I would take Carnival any day over NCL. It was pointed out by the hotel director, Scott Hamby, that having an ALL AMERICAN crew had it's advantages and one of them is not having a language barrier. Well, that may be so but we found that even with a language barrier on other lines, the service received was phenomenal. Most of the crew on this ship has to be in the 20-25 yr old category. This is a very young crew and most of them don't know what real work is about. We heard their disenchantment with NCL all through the cruise on many of the decks. Many of these kids couldn't wait to get off the ship. Many of them stated they were in it just long enough to pay off their college bills. These aren't crew members that want to be committed to doing this for the long haul and somewhere along the line work ethics becomes a problem. That was very evident on this ship. Many of these kids did not want to work. They wanted to go back to their hometown or back to their Mom and Dad. I also have to recognize the few that really worked their hineys off. They earned their fair share and their co-worker's share as well. We weren't all as fortunate as the first reviewer. He received an invitation for a 2-night preview, had the pleasure of enjoying two deck parties. One with a mechanical bull and the other with a mechanical surfboard. He was obviously treated better. NCL was more attentive with him than they were with us. We were never treated with such a show. Upon disembarking, he also received a commemorative inaugural gift. Well, that was very generous of NCL. One would think that the the passengers that had been the true "inaugural" passengers, that paid the price with both money and aggravation, that had made the first "true" cruise to their destination would be the ones to receive such a gift. Once again, NCL has shown their true colors. For those of you that are considering traveling NCL on this ship, read the reviews and reconsider. Remember, "they're still working on it" !!!!! Read Less
Sail Date June 2005
We JUST returned from a cruise on Pride of America. We are frequent cruisers and have had some wonderful experiences. This was NOT one of them. Along with many fellow passengers, we are disenchanted with Norwegian Cruise Lines and will ... Read More
We JUST returned from a cruise on Pride of America. We are frequent cruisers and have had some wonderful experiences. This was NOT one of them. Along with many fellow passengers, we are disenchanted with Norwegian Cruise Lines and will never cruise with them again. This voyage was clearly undertaken for training the crew and not on behalf of the passengers (we were used and abused). There are some serious communication and organization issues that must be resolved before I would even consider recommending this cruise to anyone. Here are descriptions of just a few of the things that contributed to our miserable voyage: On the first day of the cruise, we arrived to find our cabin prepared for double occupancy, not the triple occupancy that we had booked. We reported this to the reception desk at 2:30 and called 3 more times between 2:30 and 10:00. Each time we were told that it would be taken care of, but nothing happened. Finally at 10 pm, we started flagging down housekeeping staff in the hall. We procured a pillow, but no one came to help us fold out the trundle bed. Because we'd been traveling all day, the two of us with beds went to sleep. We were awakened at nearly 11 pm as two maids loudly came in to make the bed. After talking to other passengers, we learned this was common practice. Another issue was the chocolate. Call us decadent, but one of the things we love most about cruising is receiving chocolates on our pillow each night. We did not receive them the first or second nights, so I called down to reception to request them. The receptionist replied "um......I don't think we do that.....some people are allergic to chocolate". Upon talking to other passengers, I learned that they had received chocolates, so I asked again. Another receptionist told me that NCL doesn't give chocolates on pillows. On the third night, we had a miracle—chocolate on two of our three pillows!! For the next few nights we received either two or three chocolates, but did not receive ANY on the seventh night, so I called again. This time, our complaint was taken seriously and we received six chocolate covered strawberries in our room on the eighth night. This thoughtful gesture went a long way toward sweetening our thoughts about the service on the boat...until the next night, when we did not receive chocolates for everyone in our cabin. Admittedly, chocolates are a very small thing, but this was a good example of the schizophrenic customer service that characterized this cruise. In addition to the above issues: there is no ATM or bank on the ship, room service typically takes at least an hour and a half, many food and beverage items on every menu are not available (on the 9th day of the cruise, we were informed they had no egg beaters, Splenda, potatoes, or many menu selections), sections of the upper decks smell faintly of sewage, and our breakfast room service order was only correct one of 12 times! Our experiences are not unique. We met people who didn't have cold water in their rooms and some that didn't have hot water. We met people with room refrigerators that didn't work and some with faulty air conditioning. We met a woman who arrived to find dishes and dirty boxer shorts in her room and a couple who paid for a suite and arrived to find that they'd been downgraded to a much smaller room. Disembarkation began nearly 2 hours after it was supposed to--it was a disorganized nightmare! The cruise director gave out incorrect information in the briefing and inconvenienced many passengers. Despite these pervasive issues, we managed to have a good time (our family took bets on service issues and played 'survivor'!). Some of the waiters and service people went out of their way to circumvent obvious institutional inadequacies. The bottom line is that NCL booked passengers on this ship before it was ready. Efficient routines hadn't been established and staff hadn't been trained. The company may have offset costs by selling berths on the transit voyage through the Panama Canal. However, given the long term damage to brand equity caused by charging people full price for what is obviously a training cruise, that was probably not a wise decision. NCL management must focus on correcting these issues before we would come within a nautical mile of this ship. Read Less
Sail Date June 2005
It was scary that on the inaugural cruise the utensils were always dirty. Not one day without finding a dirty utensil. The entertainment was good and shore excursions ok but aside from that, there was lots of chaos. Granted it was the ... Read More
It was scary that on the inaugural cruise the utensils were always dirty. Not one day without finding a dirty utensil. The entertainment was good and shore excursions ok but aside from that, there was lots of chaos. Granted it was the inaugural cruise, but they kept running out of food and everything on the ship seemed to malfunction. There was a horrible smell near the back of the ship and scarily the ship was filthy by mid trip and this was the FIRST true itinerary. Had major room problems such as stains on the sheets, not enough towels, cups, and for the most part lower than average service. Certainly do not get the bang for your buck. Definitely will not ride with NCL again and this gives a bad name to America. On the fourth of July there was a party that lasted 45 minutes and that was it for the whole day....on the PRIDE OF AMERICA ship. Not much else to say except that after riding on the Princess line before this was extremely disappointing at the least. Read Less
Sail Date June 2005
My wife, Audrey Newman, our grandson Gavin, and I, Howard Wallenstein, had been looking forward to this trip through the Panama Canal on NCL's newest ship Pride of America. Our first sight of her alongside the pier in Miami on June ... Read More
My wife, Audrey Newman, our grandson Gavin, and I, Howard Wallenstein, had been looking forward to this trip through the Panama Canal on NCL's newest ship Pride of America. Our first sight of her alongside the pier in Miami on June 25th was not a disappointment. Her gleaming white hull with the distinctive artwork was spectacular. Further, we were not disappointed in the beautiful public rooms and our staterooms. Unfortunately, the joy ended here. Our Experience: The ship layout appears to be of random design. It is not possible to access the Liberty Dining Room (the "upstairs" to the Skyline Dining Rooms' "downstairs") directly from anywhere else on the ship except from the aft elevators or through the Skyline Dining Room. On several occasions we had to go out onto the weather decks in the rain to get around either the Cadillac Diner or the Lazy J Steak House as opposed to going all the way forward and down to the fifth deck and then aft and through the Skyline Restaurant. Very annoying. The Pride of America was about 18 or 20 days out of the building yards in Bremerhaven when we boarded, and the air conditioning system was not under control. All the public rooms, the restaurants, main lobby, and the Hollywood theater were too cold to linger in without a warm sweater or jacket. Several rooms had no a/c at all. Tests were run almost daily on our staterooms "to determine the full load capacity" we were told. This required placing our a/c control in maximum cooling while locking the controls. We were told that "these tests were only for an hour". Four hours later they were still under "test," and repeated calls to reception produced no technician's appearance. Finally, five hours later a technician appeared, and I closely observed his procedure in unlocking our a/c control. During this "test" our room temperature dropped into the 50's, and the room became uninhabitable. Where could we go? All the public rooms were of the same temperature. Who brings cold weather clothing onto a cruise into the tropics? All further "tests" were limited by me to one hour, and then I unlocked the a/c control and put on the heat! The two rooms next to ours were occupied by our grandsons and dear friends. I stopped the "tests" in these rooms as well. The next most serious problem was in the dining rooms. These comments are for the Skyline and Liberty Dining rooms, Little Italy (until the last two days when the management changed - more later on this issue), Lazy J Steak House, and East Meets West. There are two major problems: food preparation and service. Food preparation first. I cannot comment on the layout or management of the galleys since we were unable to observe them first hand, however ongoing bottlenecks caused delays in food preparation all cruise long. The first night the appearance of the steak, which everyone ordered, was delayed over one hour. That's right, we sat on our hands for more than one hour after the appetizer, soup and salad were served. Has no one aboard operated a large dining room before? We had problems completing our meals in less than two and a half hours. We started initially planning to go to dinner at 7:30 planning on attending the 9:30 show in the Hollywood theater. We were forced to miss dessert and rush through the entrEe or miss the start of the entertainment. Eventually we started dinner at 6:45 with the request to our waiter to complete meal service by 9:00 p.m.. Late arrival at the show meant that our family of six could not sit together. Additionally the waiter and his assistant were reversed in their interaction from what we had observed, and enjoyed, on our prior 25 or so cruises. Aboard the Pride of America the waiters had the job of running to the galley to fetch the food, and the assistant cleared the table, set the bread service, and (sometimes, when he remembered) get the drink order. This forced the least experienced member of the table service crew to manage the meal experience. One evening at the start of the cruise Mr. Michael Landry, whose card has the title "Food and Beverage Director" stopped at our table and inquired "How are things going? Do you have any comments about the food experience?" We described the above observations to him. The only change from the pattern we have described was the next day when all the tables for two were clustered in the front of the room in response to complaints from several couples that the "fuss" caused by several small children was disturbing their meal, and the "romantic mood was spoiled". Of course this change had negative repercussions in that the waiters in the rest of the room now had to handle all the large tables which naturally slowed things down further. We had observed the senior ships' managers lounging in the specialty restaurants, smoking in groups in the common spaces and drinking a leisurely cup of coffee. In my 45 years experience as a Naval Officer and senior manager in the food industry I had learned to LEAD BY EXAMPLE. The lack of hands-on supervision was visible in all ship operations. The only exception to this ship wide problem was in the Cadillac Grill. The manager of this operation was David Verschoor. He closely managed the Grill. Service was prompt, the wait staff were attentive and appeared well trained and competent. The last two days of the cruise his talent must have been spotted and he was transferred to the Little Italy Restaurant. We had our last meal of the cruise in this dining room and the change from our first experience was like night and day. This proves my contention that management is severely lacking on the Pride of America. On the same subject: there is a serious fault somewhere in the food handling chain. My wife, myself, and our grandson had a severe case of "runny tummy". In the case of our grandson (13 years old) it required two trips to the ships' doctor. We found him caring and competent. He was very concerned that this might be a transmittable form, and quarantined Gavin to his room for 24 hours. He prescribed a bland diet which would be served to him in his room by Room Service. Room service could/would not comply. All attempts to order white rice and plain chicken failed. "It is not on the menu, we will not make something special". We coped by delivering food from the Aloha Buffet. An informal interviewing of all the people we came across during the last three days revealed that almost one person of each couple questioned reported a case of "runny tummy". By informal count we spoke to over 250 couples. This is a serious problem. One more fact on the subject of food preparation. The garbage handling system for the Aloha Grill was built too close to the Little Italy Dining Room forcing the Little Italy Dining Room which is directly next to the Aloha Grill to fetch its' food from the main dining rooms six decks away. Yet, under Mr. Verschoor's management the service and dining experience was excellent, and what we have learned to expect from a first class cruise ship. Lastly, and the most embarrassing to as an ex-Naval Officer was the total lack of seamanship on the Pride of America. Our last scheduled port visit was in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The absence of pier facilities required that shore visits must be made via tenders. We have visited this port on other ships and had experienced small boat operations before. My Naval experience was in USS Cambria (APA-36) an assault ship whose mission was landing Marines over the beach. We earned our pay by unloading, filling and dispatching landing craft. Our Pride of America schedule had us anchoring at 8:30 - 9:00 a.m. and starting tender operations by 10:00 a.m. With a scheduled ship departure at 3:00 p.m. (last boat departs shore at 2:30 p.m.) we could anticipate a brief, but tolerable four and a half hour visit. Short, but tolerable for our grandson to "taste" Mexico, and renew memories for us. Having drawn Tender #8, we anticipated a short wait, and decided to watch tender operations from the sixth deck. What I witnessed was complete chaos, and an increasingly dangerous operation. There were 3 to 4 (varying from time to time) seamen handling lines, and no visible supervision. The tenders were supplied by the port and were handled by experienced boat handlers. As I said the ship was anchored. In these conditions, there is no net current at slack tide, up to a few knots of current when the tide is running. Under all conditions the ships' head is into the source of current, as she is anchored. That is why ship designers install a bitt in the ships' hull forward of the tender platform. What is supposed to happen is that ships' sailors bend (attach) a line called a "painter" to this bitt, and it should be of sufficient length to run to the platform. As a small boat approaches, the deckhand seizes the painter, and bends it around the boats' forward cleat. This act stabilizes the boat alongside of the ship allowing the attachment of another line, and the discharge and loading of personnel. No painter was in use. Further, and adding to the dangerous situation, seamen on the platform ALWAYS bent the first line to the boat onto the aft cleat, assuring instability and the swinging of the boat at right angles to the platform causing the boat to cast off and try again. One more thing added to the chaos: when a seaman caught a line from the boat he did not know that his weight and strength was insufficient to keep the boat alongside, and he should immediately take a turn around the cleat in front of him to snub the line to keep it from running and allow its' further tightening. After watching this debacle for two hours, and listening to my fellow passengers' grumbling, I went to the Reception desk and asked to speak to the most senior officer available. The Assistant Front Desk Manager appeared. I described what I had observed and requested that this situation be made known to the responsible operating officer, and a decision made to extend the shore visit by several hours. He refused stating that the ships' schedule was unalterable. So, off I went with my grumbling shipmates. We hit shore at 12:30, had a wonderful (ha!) two hours visit, and was aboard at 2:45. Adding insult to injury during embarkation ship personnel had dispatched one of the their lifeboats to fetch supplies from the port. Loading tenders was interrupted for 35 precious minutes while the seamen attempted to bring the lifeboat alongside to receive several crew members. Then when it returned about 3:30 to unload these precious emergency supplies, four loaded tenders had to cast off and heave-to while these supplies were off loaded as a priority cargo more important that four boatloads of increasingly seasick passengers. And what was the emergency supplies? It was toilet paper and bananas! As it worked out, tender operations continued until 4:30 p.m. This delay could not be made up over the next 36 hours of cruising, and we arrived late in Los Angeles. Delays caused by the documentation of about 75 American citizen crew added to the final time we were able to debark. We used the NCL "Express Disembarkation", which means we hauled our own luggage and stood waiting in the sixth deck passageway with about 500 other guests who had elected the "Express Debarkation". Needless to say we missed our scheduled flight, and the next one we changed to, finally arriving at LAX at 12:15. Flight connections failed all day, and we arrived home exhausted the next day. All personal spirits and wine were confiscated from us upon boarding. They were returned when we arrived in LA, and this operation took over an hour. We had lots and lots of time waiting to get off. As a parting note, we found the lack of "work ethic" among the US crew as compared to foreign staffed ships. Our stateroom steward had to be reminded daily to fully replace the in-room coffee service, and wash out the pot and throw away the spent coffee filter. Our room was never dusted, and the balcony glass was not wiped to remove the salt deposits. I mention these petty items because they illustrate the condition, and many of our fellow passengers cited the same issues. Every port (even the Panama Canal) saw several crew members with their personal luggage leave the ship. Most were disenchanted by the requirements to work, and the rest were terminated for various reasons. We had heard through the "scuttlebutt" (ships' rumor mill) that 100 new crew members would be boarding in LA to take their places. Guess our answer to NCL's question: "Would you sail on an NCL ship again, and will you recommend it to a friend?" Read Less
Sail Date June 2005
I cannot believe a cruise line like NCL would actually book cruises on a ship that was not in proper working order or staffed with a well-trained crew. I think the only reason they did so was due to the advanced publicity they received ... Read More
I cannot believe a cruise line like NCL would actually book cruises on a ship that was not in proper working order or staffed with a well-trained crew. I think the only reason they did so was due to the advanced publicity they received from the Regis and Kelly Show. There were many minor problems too numerous to list in great detail but here are several that seem to stand out. The restaurants ran out of menu items on first day of the cruise and several other items in the days that followed. The food service in dining rooms was extremely slow and seemed rather disorganized. They seemed to be trying several different procedures to improve the service and even rearranged tables but things never seemed to be working as they should. Several times my food was not prepared as ordered and one time it was actually cold - not lukewarm or room temperature - cold. The food in the buffet was good. The bakery was especially tasty. Unfortunately you always had to go looking for silverware if you were lucky enough to find a table that was cleaned off. Personnel working in the buffet seemed very understaffed and overwhelmed. Supervisors walked around seemingly taking down notes but no improvements could be noticed. One of the ice cream machines broke the first day of the cruise and remained that way for the remainder of the cruise. Frequently the ice machine and ice tea and juice dispensers were not working. Mechanically there were also problems. There were many contractors on board still working on problems and installations. The air conditioning went out for almost a day and a half. Sometimes there was no cold water, other times there was no hot water. The spa in the back deck of the ship never was operational. There was also a terrible smell in the back by the main restaurants which we were told came from a downdraft from the smoke stacks. There was no navigational information available on the room television and we were told it was not operational yet. Housekeeping was the worst I have ever experienced on a cruise. Housekeepers in the walkways by the cabin were very noisy and made it difficult to get to sleep and often woke us up early in the morning. The rooms were very dusty and the balcony window was filthy and was never touched during the entire two weeks. Coffee pots were not cleaned regularly and supplies were not replaced until we requested them. The entertainment was good with the exception of the impersonator who almost walked off in the middle of her performance due to technical problems. The sketch artist in the main area was a great touch. The ship itself seemed to be rather plain compared to others we have been on. It is obviously designed to be used where much of the time on the cruise is to be spent in port which is what will be the case in Hawaii. The rooms were very small. We had a balcony room and the two of us could not get around without bumping into each other. The fitness center was the best we have seen on a ship. Many treadmills and cycles with individual televisions and ample room for other fitness equipment. In general crew members were pleasant and seemed to be trying to do the best they could. One got the feeling that they were on a "shake down" cruise. Obviously management knew there were problems since almost every announcement ended with "We appreciate your patience" or "We ask for your patience". My question is "Why didn't NCL do something to accommodate passengers for the many inconveniences they endured?" If this were a fine hotel they would have either refunded the purchase price or given something towards any future visits. NCL did neither. Not only would I not recommend NCL but I feel they should be ashamed for their lack of consideration of passengers. The only thing worse than poor customer service is none at all. Read Less
Sail Date June 2005
Just got back from a very disappointing trip on the Pride of America. This was our seventh cruise (all on different lines) and the worst one yet. Norwegian was not up to par, by any standards. Almost everyone you talked to had problems. We ... Read More
Just got back from a very disappointing trip on the Pride of America. This was our seventh cruise (all on different lines) and the worst one yet. Norwegian was not up to par, by any standards. Almost everyone you talked to had problems. We had our share: sometimes hot water, sometimes cold, no air conditioning for a day, cold food, poor service in the dining room and with cabin maintenance. Noise and laughter in the hall by cleaning crew and one morning music started playing over the speaker at 6:30 a.m. Cabins are small. Ship is plain and not many activities. Cruise director kept asking everyone to be patient, but they never offered any solutions to problems. Most of the entertainment was great, except for the lady impersonator, as many people walked out on her. We chose to take the express check out, because we had an early flight, but we waited in the hall for almost three hours before we could start getting off. Many people we talked to were going to miss their flights simply because Norwegian was so unorganized. This ship was clearly not ready to be put into service. The ice cream machine broke down and they could not fix it until we got to LA. The restaurant computer system had problems. On the first morning at breakfast we were told they were out of hash browns. We bought time on the internet and that was a mistake, as they did not keep correct track of the time. They never did open the hot tub on deck 12 aft. As most people do, I waited for a much deserved enjoyable vacation, but Norwegian created a big disappointment. Read Less
Sail Date June 2005
Had a great cruise through the Panama Canal on the Sun. We left from Los Angeles. There had been some problem as you come off the freeway to go down to the port, and traffic was at a standstill, so we were hot and unhappy by the time we ... Read More
Had a great cruise through the Panama Canal on the Sun. We left from Los Angeles. There had been some problem as you come off the freeway to go down to the port, and traffic was at a standstill, so we were hot and unhappy by the time we reached the ship. So we welcomed the quick, smooth check in procedure. You actually board the ship, and the staff was set up in one of the dining rooms. Crew members were handing out punch, and it was relaxed and easy. We were delighted by our room. We had paid an inside price, then at the last minute saw balconies for that price. We called our agent, and she was able to get us upgraded--what a deal! We were in the last room aft on the starboard side of the ship. Because of a little recess, this room is a little smaller than other rooms on the side, but the balcony is double sized, which more than made up for the room size in our opinion. In addition to the 2 chairs and table that are on the other balconies, we also had a lounger--great for the sunny sea days (there were 10 on this cruise) Our cabin attendant, Myrene, was great; can't say enough good about her. She really took care of us. Beds are comfortable with a cozy duvet. I don't know if I am the only one, but I love Norwegian's lotion; it really smells great. I wish you could buy it in their shops. Storage was adequate, and there is a small refrigerator in each room. One interesting and different thing was that our room had a DVD player. You can rent DVDs on the ship or bring your own. Our first stop was Puerto Vallarta, always my favorite in Mexico. The Sam's and Wal-Mart are right across from the dock in case you forget anything, and the main bus stop going to town (Centro) or anywhere else in the area (Marina, Nuevo Vallarta, Bucerias, etc.,etc.) is right there. This is an easy port to explore on your own, or there are plenty of activities to choose from. Next, we stopped in Ixtapa, a really cute little town, and again, easy to explore on your own. It is a tender port. We saw the divers and shopped in Acapulco. We had a pretty good rain there: We were in the middle of Hurricane Otis in the Pacific and Hurricane Stan in the Caribbean; it is amazing that the weather was good most of the time. In Costa Rica, we went to the crocodile river--big, big crocs--and several other places We were lucky to join up with another couple who had booked an all day tour with Charlie Soto, a great guide--and a great day! Our other stop was Aruba, always a beautiful island with beautiful beaches. The city bus stop is right across from the dock, and the bus will take you to all the beaches for a $1. Of course, the highlight of the trip was the Panama Canal, a fascinating place with a fascinating history. We had a long, but thoroughly interesting and entertaining day as we traversed the Canal. The Sun itself is a clean, attractive ship with enough activities to keep anyone entertained, no easy feat with 10 sea days. But Simon, the cruise director and his staff managed well. And as always on Norwegian, the Jean Ann Ryan dance company was superb. One of their shows was a Cirque type production, a real treat. I think Norwegian has the best dancers of any line. I am always impressed with them, and this company was especially outstanding. We love Norwegian's freestyle dining: being able to eat when we want, meeting different people, more relaxed dress codes. But you do pay in level of service. It was good overall, but a few nights, we had slow or careless service. The menus in general were not very impressive; we would look early in the day, and several times all the entrees were so unappealing that we just went to the buffet. There are two main dining rooms, one of which is also open for breakfast and lunch, the buffet (which has an omelet station at breakfast and a curry station at lunch as well as the buffet line), the Pacific Heights, a "cooking light" specialty restaurant with no fee, and 4 specialty dining rooms with fees (French, Italian, Steak, and sushi/oriental. Food in these was noticeably better than the regular dining rooms. There is an outdoor buffet area at breakfast and lunch, a pizza and pasta area (and that is just what they had: no salad, no garlic toast, etc.--just pizza and pasta) and a soup and sandwich area. Soups were very unimpressive: watery and unadorned at all meals. Overall, we felt that the food on this ship was not up to the level we have experienced on other ships. Disembarkation was not as smooth as embarkation. The ship was originally scheduled to go to New Orleans, but changed its destination to Houston after Katrina. This was its first time there, and there were a few kinks. First, we got in late. Then the gangways wouldn't line up with the pier, so they couldn't get the luggage off. A train blocked the road to the dock and stopped all the traffic, so taxis and busses couldn't get through. Lots of little things that I am sure they will work on. But we enjoyed the ship and the trip, and we're ready to go again! Read Less
Sail Date October 2005
One word describes everything about the ship and the cruise - FANTASTIC. We sailed out of LA on a beautiful September evening with a glorious sunset to see us off. We have sailed NCL before on the Spirit and both ships were equally as ... Read More
One word describes everything about the ship and the cruise - FANTASTIC. We sailed out of LA on a beautiful September evening with a glorious sunset to see us off. We have sailed NCL before on the Spirit and both ships were equally as good. Our cabin on Norway deck first behind the bridge was perfect for what we wanted. Just one small complaint - the plastic balcony chairs could have been more comfortable - don't know how some of the large rear ends fit on them! We enjoyed all the shore visits - even though it tipped it down with rain in Acapulco because of the proximity of Hurricane Stan. We avoided two hurricanes but there was no discomfort due to rough seas - only the large swimming pool caused a problem with the motion of the water - and had to be closed some days, but the other pool was always available. We trekked the Sierra Madre in Puerto Vallarta, zip lined in Costa Rica and went down in a submarine in Aruba - unforgettable! The choice of food was excellent - both the formal dining rooms and the buffet. Plenty of places to sit and only short queuing for breakfast at the buffet when it was a shore day - everyone up early and raring to go! We are an English couple in our sixties and although many of our fellow passengers were older we thoroughly enjoyed everything on offer - nightly shows, lectures, exercise, but we drew the line at Bingo! Not our thing. We would not hesitate to go on an NCL cruise again and found the Sun a friendly happy ship with a lovely crew. Nothing was too much trouble. Read Less
Sail Date October 2005
I believe this is the same trip William Fisher was on, although he indicated an embarkation date of April 4th. We embarked on April 23rd in Miami and debarked in SF on May 10th. As background, know that this is the first cruise I have ... Read More
I believe this is the same trip William Fisher was on, although he indicated an embarkation date of April 4th. We embarked on April 23rd in Miami and debarked in SF on May 10th. As background, know that this is the first cruise I have ever been on. My wife has been on a few prior cruises, but nothing of this length. Overall this was an excellent trip with two exceptions  embarkation and debarkation. While I am not sure that the embarkation problems were under NCLs control, half of the debarkation was directly attributable to a screw up on NCLs part. In any event, we were ticked when we got on board, and ticked when we finally got off the ship, and thrilled in between. The wife and I, along with my mother and sister, made our own arrangements to get to the ship in Miami. When we got to the port it was a madhouse. There were five ships and all of them seemed be disembarking and then embarking, all at the same time. No one knew where to drive or drop folks off. Chaos. Once we figured out where to drop our stuff off, the wife and I take the rental car back while mom and sis figure things out. When the wife and I got back we found the staging area for our cruise  a line out in the hot sun heading into a tent. No one moving, no one knows squat about what is happening. Turns out that five ships is too much for the terminal to handle indoors, so ours was the lucky cruise ship with the outdoor wait. We see that mom and sis are sitting inside the tent which is sort of air conditioned, but cannot get to them. Long story short, the wife and I stand in line in the sun for over an hour before things begin to move. Eventually all of the paperwork is done and we are on the ship. Things start to get much better. We drop mom and sis in their room, an interior cabin on the forth deck. Adequate, relatively inexpensive, very small bathroom, no windows. Then the wife and I go to our room, a mini-suite on deck 11. Sweet! Large room with a balcony, champagne and fruit bowl waiting, a bathroom suite that is practically the size of my folks interior cabin, multiple marble vanities, separate room for toilet & tub/shower, etc. Definitely first class. Food, service and entertainment were all excellent. Wasnt nuts about the buffets, but that is because the food at the sit down dinning places was so good, and the experience much more enjoyable. I have no problem with sitting in nice dinning rooms while pleasant people bring me excellent food - breakfast, lunch and dinner! We tried the premium Italian, French and Steakhouse restaurants one time each at dinner. Definitely worth the $10 - $20 service charge. But the free restaurants were so good that there was not a huge incentive to pay more. Never had to wait for seating at any time. Walk up when you are ready to eat and order away. Service was excellent across the board. The housekeeping and restaurant staffs were very nice and efficient, always making sure that our every needs were being met. Cant say enough good things about them. The entertainment was first rate. I did not attend shows every night, but the ones I did (comedians, a flamenco guitar guy, jazz singers, etc.) were very entertaining. The rest of the on-board activities I kind of ignored  I used the downtime on the ship to read. Note that there is a lot of ship time on this cruise. It stops at seven ports in 17 days, which leaves a lot of sea days. No problem for us  it was very relaxing. Ive talked to others on similar trips who got bored. Know thyself and how you will handle a large number of days at sea before signing on to a Panama Canal cruise. The gym was very well equipped with professional equipment. Plenty of treadmills, bike and elliptical trainers, and a decent set of Cybex weight machines. Also, a separate room for floor exercises, yoga, etc. This room was occasionally used for classes (dance, yoga, etc.) but was mostly open. Previous comments about the age of the general customer population were correct. A cruise of this length is expensive enough and long enough that pretty much only older folks could afford the time and expense. Very few kids. Pushing 50, the wife and I were younger than about 97% of the rest of the folks on board. The ports and tours were fine. Having never visited second/third world countries before, there were a few eye-openers in store. I was never really able to forget the ironic juxtaposition of visiting these extremely poor countries in this monster luxury ship. One interesting note going through the Panama Canal. On the edge of the canal at the Miraflores locks near Panama City there is a four story building structure with outdoor balconies with grandstands, seats, etc. We could see this building for close to a half hour before we got there, and it is jammed pack with people. There must have been at least 300 people there. As the ship starts to pass the building they all start waving like mad, and of course we all wave back. When the ship was past the building all 300 people immediately got up and left. We thought that was pretty strange, and asked the Cruise Director what the story was. It turns out that there are tours from Panama City to take Panamanians out to watch cruise ships go by. Who knew?? The only negative port/tour experience was on Curacao, where the bus for our snorkeling trip waited for 45 minutes at the terminal before leaving. No explanation. It appeared that they were waiting for a stray passenger, but no one came and we finally took off, rather unhappy. Apparently word got out to the boat operators that there was a bus load of unhappy customers on the way. When the boat left the shore they immediately opened up the open bar, and kept it open the entire time. People became happy real quick! Debarkation turned out to be a fiasco. As mentioned in william fishers write up, customs was about two hours late getting on board. Cant really blame NCL for that. Most folks waited in line for hours. We went to breakfast and relaxed, and when we were done the customs folks were onboard and the lines gone. The real fiasco was when they started telling people to debark. We had all received different color tags for our luggage (about 10-12 different colors were distributed). We were told to wait in our rooms or a common area until out color was called. They called out Red, then about 10 minutes later Red with Stripe. Then about 10 minutes later they said Everyone can leave. Great  turns out they had just told about 90% of the 2000 guests to leave at once. Not surprisingly, pandemonium ensued. You could not get an elevator, so we started down the stairs. About three decks down everyone ground to a halt, five decks from the end. It took a half hour to descend one deck. We finally fought our way onto an Up elevator, went to the top and back down. So it took us an hour or so to get off the boat, and we were some of the lucky ones. This was entirely NCL's fault. Whoever gave the all-clear for 90% of the guests to leave at once should be tortured for a while. So we entered the boat in a bad mood, left it in a sour mood, and had a great 17 days in between. Definite five stars if the front end/back end problems had been avoided. Read Less
Sail Date April 2006
This was our third cruise and all three were with Norwegian Cruise Line. Two on the Sun and one on the Spirit. We left (my wife and I) from Miami and the embarkation process was terrible. It took two hours to get from the airport to the ... Read More
This was our third cruise and all three were with Norwegian Cruise Line. Two on the Sun and one on the Spirit. We left (my wife and I) from Miami and the embarkation process was terrible. It took two hours to get from the airport to the ship. Apparently there were two Norwegian ships in Miami and this caused problems in transportation from the airport to the ship. Once at the ship we had no problems getting on the ship. We shouldn't since most of the people already were processed. We fault Norwegian with the delays at the airport. They should have had enough busses there to drive us the few miles to the ship. But this can happen every once in awhile and the weather was great and after all we were on vacation so whether we sit in the airport or the boat is no big deal. The Panama Cruise or any cruise that is of longer duration than 7 days appear to attract the older crowd. Since we were on a 17 day cruise, approximately 89% of the passengers appeared to be over 65. I guess they have the money and the time. We are in our late fifties so we were pretty much in the ballpark. This has benefits, since the older passengers have a tendency to eat early and go to bed early. This is great when it comes to supper. You get to sit down right away and service is fantastic. Instead of the 2 hour suppers aboard the Norwegian Spirit we were able to take our time and finish about 45 minutes to an hour. The food was quite good in the main dinning rooms. In the past we used the specialty restaurants like the Bistro. This time around we only used the specialty restaurants twice. The food was always good and served hot. You finish with the appetizer when they bring you the salad. You never had to request anything. Wine is a little expensive but it is a vacation and you can ask them to cork the bottle and serve the remaining wine on the following night. There is one thing about the Sun and that is the people who work on the ship. They are always helpful, polite and efficient. This differed in a small degree with the Spirit. The ship is always clean and they devised a new way of serving food in the buffet restaurants on the top floors. The have set up stations at different places so if it is pizza you want you go to a station apart from the regular meals. They had a station serving hot dogs/hamburgers etc. and stations for more elaborate food. They use to provide trays when you ate upstairs in the buffet areas but have stopped doing this. Instead you have plates and saucers. At first it was annoying because you had to go back for dessert etc. However, after two days I noticed haw fast you can get your food by not using trays. People using trays try to stock up on food so the line slows up. We found out later that this was not the only reason. apparently, this reduces the tendency to load up your tray with food that you end up never eating. Less waste means more profit for the ship. Excursions were typical of all the cruise lines and there was a good selection. Costa Rica was rich in wildlife and rain forest. Mexico was beautiful on the Pacific Side. As a matter of fact Acapulco has to be one of the most beautiful city at night that we have ever seen. There were two other cruise ships when we were there , Princess and Holland America. However, only the Sun left after dark so we could see the city at night and it was worth it. Think of Christmas decorations that go on for miles ,up and down huge mountains, from street lamps and houses, it was quite a spectacle. San Francisco was also a beautiful city and a day or two there is well worth the price. Try to see the building where there are sofas/chairs/pianos hanging out windows etc. Disembarkation was terrible because when we arrived at San Francisco there were already four ships in port and US Customs only came on board two hours later than was planned. Once customs was on the ship the process went very quickly. The shuttles to the hotel and airport were well done and did not resemble when we got on board. Two things that I feel I should mention and that ios the Casino and the art Auction. Don't waste your money in the casino as far as the slots are concerned. NCL advertises its Casinos but the payout appears to be lower than what they state. You can win the small credits but any credits > 50 is few and far between. Jackpots are rare as far as I could see. The art auction is a lot of fun if you don't take it too seriously and not accept everything you are told. They claim that the paintings can be brought in with no tax or duty payable. When we hit the canadian customs this turned out to be incorrect. We asked on the ship and this is what whew were told. They also told us that they would pay any taxes or duty that was charged. Well we will find out in 5 to 6 weeks when the paintings arrive by UPS. It was great cruise and we thoroughly enjoyed it especially going through the Panama Canal Read Less
Sail Date April 2006
We booked this trip nearly 16 months in advance to insure that my wife and I and three other couples had our choice of staterooms and deck preference well in advance. We all prefer balcony staterooms in as close to the mid ships as ... Read More
We booked this trip nearly 16 months in advance to insure that my wife and I and three other couples had our choice of staterooms and deck preference well in advance. We all prefer balcony staterooms in as close to the mid ships as possible for the best cruising without feeling significant movement of the ship during rough seas. Our group ranges in age from 56-64 and we are definitely not cruise and booze people, but we do have a real good time when we are out and about. Our primary purpose was to transit the Panama Canal and see the cliff divers in Acapulco, not to mention have a great vacation. The 17 day cruise started April 23, 2006 and was completed May 10, 2006. Embarkation In a word "awful" because the Norwegian Sun was supposed to go out of New Orleans, the accommodations in Miami were make shift at best. There were (5) other ships there on our sailing day and they were embarking on their cruises as well, so they had the good accommodations. When we arrived at the dock we were given tags for the luggage by the porter and the only thing we needed to put on the tag was our cabin number. We were then herded into a serpentine line by an NCL employee and we could see the line would eventually take us into a good sized tent. What we didn't know was that once in the tent there were two Miami Harbor Patrol people in there checking cruise documents against passports or other ID. We stood in the hot sun for over an hour before getting into the air conditioned FIRST tent. This had to be especially hard on the majority of the older passengers all above 70 years old by our guess. NCL employees came out often to give us cups of water. Once inside we were checked by one of the two patrol people that I really believed wanted to be a comedian as he made some sort of joke or comment about each person he checked. If he would have been in the blazing Florida sun like us I'm sure he would have hurried. This situation was out of NCL's hands and the Miami authorities had complete control of the check in station. After the first tent there was a walk half the length of the ship where a "comfort tent" to keep you out of the sun for a few minutes had been erected. We then proceeded half the length of the ship to another "comfort tent" to stand waiting to enter a large tent where the medal detector was checking carry on luggage and people as they walked through. We then were sent to the registration area in the tent where U.S. citizens and non citizen lines were set up for registration. The non citizen line was at least twice as long as the US citizen line and getting through registration and the metal detector took no more than 15 minutes. We found out later that there were less than a thousand U.S. passengers on board and over fifteen hundred International passengers. With our cabin keys in hand we proceeded on the ship through the check in and hand cleaning stations. We took an elevator to the Viking Deck #8 and proceeded to our cabin. Unfortunately, the door keys didn't work. We put our carry on luggage in one of our groups cabins and proceed to the Garden Cafe on deck #12. Had a real nice lunch there with the food being very tasty and a real nice selection. After lunch, I went down to the reception area on deck #5 and received new keys which worked just fine. Shortly after getting in the cabin we met our cabin steward Donnie and asked for one additional pillow and a foam mattress pat. We had read about the pads in a previous review. Donnie had no problem accommodating our request that evening when he made up our room. We did have a problem initially with the air conditioning in our room and one request to Donnie for help and the problem was solved by maintenance. Don't get me wrong, the AC won't freeze you out of the room, but was comfortable for sleeping. Other than that problem the room was excellent with plenty of storage and even through rough seas due to its mid ship location on deck #8 we felt very little rocking or rolling of the ship. At Sea Days There were many activities to occupy your time while at sea including all the traditional cruise ship venues. We chose to go to the pools early usually around 8:00 a.m. and there usually was no one there. We noticed the pool area filled up around 11:00 which was in the full heat of the day and way too hot for us. There were ample pool lounge chairs and small round tables for various items. The pools were at 77 degrees and the 4 jacuzzi's were at 100 degrees. Port of Call Willemstad, Curacao We took a "Beach Express Tour" snorkeling excursion. It was the first time most of us snorkeled and after getting several goggle and mouth fulls of salt water we all got the hang of it. It was a short ride to the beach area and our guide and driver were a lot of fun in their old school bus. The island itself was formed by volcanic eruptions and the areas in the sea are full of coral which i found when I lost my balance and skinned my knee on some. It was nice to be able to stand up on the bottom when you got tired as well as clean out your mask and tube (LOL). The tour and beach fun were very much worth the $78/couple cost of the excursion. Port of Call Oranjestad, Aruba The excursion we chose in Aruba was a glass windowed boat exploring a ship wreck from World War II off the coast and then a tour of the island including the Natural Bridge in their wildlife refuge was similar to a state park in the U.S. This tour was in an air conditioned bus and again very much worth the $114/couple cost. Our first phase was the glass windowed boat. We boarded a power boat at the Holiday Inn and went out into the sea and transfer to the glass windowed boat. Even though the boat was air condition, the climb down stairs to the bottom of the boat and the close proximity of the passengers might make you feel a little sea sick. You are actually only 5' underwater, but the 20% magnification of the window glass makes everything closer. We were fortunate that the sun was coming out of the clouds during our tour giving us some incredible pictures and film of the wreck. The next stop was a big rock some chose to climb, but we elected to walk through the gift shop and then get back on the bus in the air conditioning the outside temperature was about 90 with 98% humidity and I mean to tell you it was HOT!. We then went to the natural bridge which we found out on the way had collapsed in September 2005. The smaller bridge was still there, however, so that worked out ok. The coast line in the northern end of the island is very rugged in comparison to the white sandy beaches of the touristy town area. Port of Call Port Lemon, Costa Rica This city was one of the most poverty stricken cities I've seen in my travels abroad and absolutely filthy with garbage and trash strewn everywhere. We chose a pontoon trip on the Black River to view wildlife. Again, we were on a nice air conditioned bus that took us through the heart of this poverty stricken city and country. The tour was for 4 hours of which two and half of it was driving to and from the river. The trip appeared to be no more than about 20 miles, but because the road was so full of potholes we crawled most of the way. If the road would have been in good repair it might have taken no more than forty minutes each way. The pontoon boat had a leaking pontoon on the port side and on the way back under power it began plowing through the water getting the people on that side of the boat wet feet and some even got some of their belongings wet. It felt pretty good while we were moving, but when he stopped to look at animals it was really hot. On the trip we saw sloth's, monkeys, and several species of birds. The wildlife and the fresh fruit after the pontoon ride were nice, but at $138/couple in the heat and humidity we wouldn't recommend it. Transiting the Panama Canal Transiting the canal and six locks is by far the highlight of the trip. To be on this huge ship with only 24 inches to spare on each side from hitting the sides of the lock is unbelievable. The co-ordination of the six toy locomotives that pull the ship into each lock and then steady the ship in the lock while the water is either raising or lowering is something you must witness to truly appreciate. There are a total of six locks in the Panama Canal with the first three at the Atlantic side. The fourth lock is about the three quarter point of the journey and the last two are at the Pacific end of the canal. It takes the whole day to make the transit. There are many places within the canal that two huge ships like ours I doubt could even pass. The co-ordination of the passing is all done at the locks and is timed flawlessly. We saw two crocodiles during the transit and number of species of birds. We heard holler monkeys, but they were to far away for us to see. Another thing that gives one an appreciation for the engineering of the canal and locks is the control buildings at each lock base. The last one at the Pacific side was so close to the ship that we could just about touch it. It couldn't have been more than six feet from our balcony. Initially, we intended to get to the front of the ship on the observation deck to watch the transit, but they were standing six deep there. We went to the back of the ship on deck #11 where we were able to get refreshments and food at the Out door Cafe and really see first hand how the locks and the entire system operated. Port of Call Puntarenas, Costa Rica When we left Port Lemon we were told by our guide that on the Pacific side of Costa Rica was the well to do side and seeing shacks and cardboard houses was only on the Atlantic side. WRONG! The area looked identical to Port Lemon with garbage and trash everywhere, burned out houses and empty lots covered in trash. The beach area was absolutely pitiful with garbage, trash and even an old toilet seat laying on the beach. The one and half hour bus trip into the mountains had trash all the way along the roadway which we informed by our guide is one of the principal roadways in his country. The road was a two lane truck route that was in poor repair and in our view very dangerous to pass on. They got us on this excursion, it was no more than a long bus ride to buy souvenirs that were probably the same as we saw around the dock area. We were taken to a "tourist trap". The high light of the trap I mean trip was the fresh fruit and cookies provided at the Sargi cart makers shop. Cost of this excursion was $80/couple and again is not recommended. Huatulco, Mexico City and La Guelaguetza Show Excursion We boarded our air conditioned bus for a ride around this small town in southern Mexico. The temperature was over 90 and humidity was about 96% the day of our tour. In other words it was really hot. The trip around this small city included a stop at their very old Catholic Church where three cute little Mexican kids sold us some hand made jewelry and the girls each bought a fold up fan to help with the heat. The last part of the tour was at an outdoor theater where it had to be over 100 degrees in side with very little air movement causing most people to leave the very long dancing performance soaking wet. We did receive refreshments there and on a scale of 1 to 10 we might rate it a 5. Cost of the tour was $116/couple. Acapulco The highlight of Acapulco was of course the cliff divers. We took a bus tour around the city and stopped at several places, but the cliff divers are what Acapulco is all about. There is a hotel just adjacent to the cliff where the divers perform and that is the base used by all the tours., There is an excellent view from there, but your are a good 250' away from where they actually dive. My wife talked me into going down the 146 stairs to an observation area right across from the divers probably no more than 60' from the actual cliff. The walk down in the 96 degree heat wasn't to bad, but the walk up wasn't easy. All in all this was by far the best place to watch them dive. The observation area was about 20' up from the water and for taking pictures especially movies it was perfect. I even got a picture with my wife and two of the divers because this area is where they walk down to and then after the dive they come back up those same 146 stairs. Oh by the way, I made it up too soaking wet with perspiration. Cabo San Lucas We took a bus tour to a small town named Todos Santos about 50 miles up the Baha to have an authentic Mexican lunch and tour the city. One of the main attractions is The Hotel California made popular from a song by The Eagles. We also toured Cabo San Lucas mostly from the bus and can see that it is one of the up and coming tourist areas of Mexico. Entertainment Entertainment was very diverse in the Stardust lounge located on decks 6 & 7 aft. There was excellent entertainment from singers, magicians, comedians, jugglers and even a hypnotist that hypnotized my sister-in-law. We always went to the early show so that we could have dinner in the Seven Seas restaurant on deck 5 aft. Obviously, the proximity of the restaurant and lounge made it very convenient. The highlight for us of the entertainment provided was the three productions by the Jean Ann Ryan singers and dancers. These young people that have been brought together are from all over the world and were absolutely outstanding and provided great entertainment. They did two totally different show during the cruise and are a can't miss. There were many other entertainment opportunities, but we chose to basically relax and not partake in them. However, a lot of the passengers did and appeared to be having a great time. Staff Services NCL of course is free style dining which we prefer ever since our first cruise on Princess. There is no restriction on when or where you eat except with in the confines of the regular dining hours. During lunch on our third day in the Seven Seas we had a young lady from Romania, Mihaela, and her assistant from the Philippines, Anicia, wait on us. These two girls had three tables they were working with twelve people and they were absolutely excellent. They never left us waiting for anything from keeping our glasses full to cleaning crumbs off the table. At dinner that evening I asked the Maitre'd if we could be seated in their section. The maitre'd gave me a kind of questioning look, but asked us to wait a few minutes to be seated. The wait was no more than two minutes and we were led to a table for eight, our party size, which was not in the area we had eaten lunch in. I pointed this out to the maitre'd and was told it would be all right. Within a few minutes Mihaela and Anicia came to the table and got us started with drinks and appetizers and through out the evening showed us the same great service that they had done at lunch. Well, the next night I again asked for Mihaela and Anicia and again we were led to the same table and within a few minutes both girls were there to wait on us. This was our regular routine at dinner for the remaining 12 days on the cruise. As it turned out, even on the first night when I asked for them they were not even working in that dinning room, but were in the cafe on the eleventh deck working. The staff at the Seven Seas brought them down to wait on us and us only every evening what ever time we arrived. I don't think you can get any better service from NCL than that. Thus, free style dining can also be assigned seating if you play your cards right. We rewarded both girls well at the end of the cruise. Food First, we are not connoisseurs of gourmet food. But if you see us, you know we like to eat. We ate all of our evening meals in the Seven Seas and about half of our breakfasts and lunches. We ate in the buffet only on shore days and ate in the outdoor cafe when the taste was for hamburgers and the like. My wife had Italian food in for lunch the La Bistro and I had sandwiches a few times in The Las Rambles and they were great. We were very satisfied with all the food in the Seven Seas dining room and felt the Garden buffet was as good as any other buffet we have had. In other reviews we have seen a few that criticized the food especially in the buffets, but my goodness people its just as the name implies one step above a cafeteria. If you wanted better food go to the main dining rooms and quit belly aching! Debarkation Absolute chaos thanks to the United States government! U.S. Customs was to be on the ship at 7:00 a.m. to begin the customs procedure in the Observatory Lounge. We were waiting in lounge chairs on Deck 11 and witnessed them finally showing up in the parking lot at 8:21 a.m. By the time they got on board and the process started it was almost 9:00 a.m. When the wife and I went through the Customs agent did nothing more than stamp our form without even reading it just as he did for those in front and in back of us. The procedure to disembark was to be by color code of your bag tags. The first two colors were called and the process started about 9:40 a.m. Then about twenty minutes later we heard that everyone that had been through customs could exit the ship. We headed for the stairwell only to find the entire stairwell jammed with people. We made it to deck 7 when the jam up stopped us cold in our tracks on our way to deck 3 to disembark. By 10:20 we were off the ship and headed for our bag color code area. We got the bags and left the area to our hotel via cab. This chaos would have been completely avoided if our illustrious government workers would have showed up at the ship on time rather than an hour and twenty minutes late! Recommendation We highly recommend this ship and this cruise. The ports of call are good, but the Panama Canal experience is a once in a life time experience. The staff of the Norwegian Sun were all the friendliest we have seen always saying hello no matter where you might see one and they are extremely helpful. We will definitely sail on NCL in the future. Read Less
Sail Date April 2006
BACKGROUND My husband and I traveled with our kids and with my family on a 14 day Panama Canal cruise. We were a party of 13 with 8 adults and 5 kids 5 and under. Overall, we were impressed with the layout of the ship, it's ... Read More
BACKGROUND My husband and I traveled with our kids and with my family on a 14 day Panama Canal cruise. We were a party of 13 with 8 adults and 5 kids 5 and under. Overall, we were impressed with the layout of the ship, it's cleanliness, the service and amenities. We had a balcony quad cabin. EMBARKATION The ship was apparently in late so the check-in was delayed. We arrived at noon when check-in for Lattitudes members was to begin. We had to wait an hour in the scorching Miami sun. We failed to understand why they didn't open the doors and allow us to wait in the queues indoors. However, once inside the process was efficient and in air-conditioned comfort. KIDS' CLUB With young children, this was an important (i.e. deal-breaking) service on the cruise. The Aqua Kids' Club physical facility is great: jungle gym, cinema and large open play area. There were 6 kids counselors and 20 kids on board, 15 of them in the 2-5 age group (this was an extremely low number for them). The program was available 9-Noon, 2 to 5 pm and 7 to 10 pm with no charge except port days when they offer a paid service ($5 per hour for the first child in family and $3 for each after). Paid services are also available after 10 p.m. at the same rates. (The counselors are not included in the group service charges so any gratuities are done at the discretion of the parents.) We dropped off our kids at 9 a.m. every morning we weren't in port and picked them up at noon. We took our kids to dinner at 6 generally and then dropped them off a kids' club at 7 pm and enjoyed the rest of our meal without playing Dora or Spiderman. We were given a printed program so you could see the scheduled events. The program was fairly good and they largely did what was scheduled (on some occasions with only a few kids they just did what the kids wanted). Themes included superheroes, bugs, pirates, music, space. All were appealing to our kids. The pajama party on the last night was a huge hit and our kids and their cousins loved it. My only timid complaint is that I thought a couple of the counselors were not skilled in helping to transition the kids who are not as comfortable staying. i.e. drawing them in by telling about the program, showing them the craft, asking them what type of superheroes they would like to be. These few overall had less facility and instinct in working with kids. But a couple of the counselors were fantastic which made the program a big success for our family. STATEROOM We had a quad balcony room. A top bunk with a small guardrail was a big hit with our 5 yr. old. The bottom 'bunk' was a loveseat that converted to a bed. It adjoined to the main (queen, I think) bed which would be great for families of co-sleepers. The queen bed had an awesome mattress - as good as at home. The kids' mattresses were not quite as comfy as my husband found out one night that he spent up top, though the kids didn't complain. The cabin is the smallest we've had (we've been on NCL Wind and HA Zaandaam) but well laid out with adequate room for our family of 4 and our kid stuff. We had an LCD tv with ESPN, CNN, Fox News and some movie channels (and random other channels depending on where we were). The cabin had a minibar which we stocked with milk, ice bucket (they filled twice a day) and 2 mini desk areas and 2 chairs. No clocks in the room so we brought a small clock from home. We wished that the cabin had a curtain to separate the kids' beds (as we had on the Wind). We watched a movie on our laptop or sometimes just went to bed early. Bathrooms are beautiful and sparkle. The door of the bathroom enters in the sink area with a shower compartment on the right (with AWESOME water pressure) and a toilet compartment on the left. The balcony was a good size (childproof lock on door) and we enjoyed much of the Panama Canal from there. The rooms were kept very clean. SHORE EXCURSIONS We chose one excursion - Jamaica: kayak to Dunn River falls and walk up the falls. The sea was too rough to kayak so we just walked up the falls. We did tour the 'jungle' area which was lame - one iguana, one snake and some birds - almost none of which were indigenous to Jamaica. There was a shark-feeding show and we're glad that we didn't pay for that! We were not charged as the kayaking was cancelled. In general, our family (and others) enjoyed the tours especially city tour in Cartagena. ENTERTAINMENT We saw only one of the main shows in the Stardust Theatre (comedian who was very good). They were generally well received. They had 2 trios of singer/instrumentals who played at various locations. One was excellent, the other mediocre. ACTIVITIES My husband and I bowled once (at $5 per head) and our kids bowled once (same price and they have gutter guards). The game is challenging and you can blame the ship lurching for all gutter balls and missed strikes. The lanes were quite popular on sea days. The lanes are shorter than regulation but I don't think that spoiled anyone's fun. We tried the climbing wall - a first for us which was fun and unique and nice to be available as we likely wouldn't have tried it at home. Two main pools and 4 hot tubs plus a toddler pool are on deck 12. One pool and 2 hot tubs were adult only. The kids-allowed pool was disappointing as the "shallow" end was 4 ft 11 inches, so over my head. They did have a 6 foot ledge all the way around which was a few inches of water. The water slide was a huge hit with our kids. One attendant wouldn't allow our kids to go down without us but otherwise they went on their own. Adults did not exactly fly down the slide. My husband actually saw one man stand up and walk down. The hot tubs were great and we enjoyed frequently. The toddler pool with elephant slide was also good for our kids but with only 6 inches of water it only held their attention so long. It is in an enclosed area and shelter area - good to keep kids out of the sun - and with a kid size picnic-type table so we often had our lunch there. The activities were numerous and wide-ranging: talks on bridge or home organization, trivia contests, port and shopping presentation, bingo and the like. Something for everyone. The decks to read or relax were many and lots of chair. The "Freestyle" deck is apparently the nude sunbathing deck, something we didn't know when we were on a family exploring trip one morning. Thankfully any sunbathers were not out early that day. Deck 13 and deck 7 both had circular tracks for walking, one also designated for jogging. They were popular but not overcrowded. The ship has wireless internet in the public rooms. The rooms have access with an Ethernet cable which we were loaned with a $20 deposit. The internet cafe had about 8 computers. I don't think I ever waited for one. We bought 250 minutes for $100 (plus a $4 activation fee) and that was just enough to get us through the trip. My husband checked his work email fairly often, and had to keep tabs on the NHL playoffs. SPA My biggest disappointment was the spa. I had a pedicure. The actual pedicure was fine - though 2 people I spoke to had painful experiences with rough cutting and pulling of the cuticles - but the attitude made the experience less than relaxing. First, comments like "put your right foot there" with a definite disdainful tone were comments (versus the usual "could you put your right foot here" in a more soothing or at least neutral tone). Second, comments like "you never moisturize your skin" and "you don't take very good care of yourself" were doled out. I said to the 2 other people who visited the spa that I had the same feeling after I had visited the dentist and was being chastised for not flossing enough. They said they had the same experience and went into detail with similar complaints. Add to this, the hard-sell on the beauty products, each of which cost at least $50, created an experience I have never had before - on and off cruiseships. I would have gone back for more treatments but for the attitude. DINING For most breakfasts and lunches we ate at the Garden Palace. This large buffet casual restaurant had great variety and surprisingly good food. We ate often in the kids’ area where the chairs suited our kids’ sizes (and there was most often room there). The kids’ buffet was not available due to so few kids on board. That meant a fair bit of walking back and forth. They had iced tea, orange juice, apple juice, water, coffee (including latte, cappuccino, espresso machines) available at all times (free). The ice cream bar was open all the time (or so it seemed to me). The Great Outdoors Café (outside the Garden Café aft) and the Topsiders Grill (by the pool) had similar food (though less selection) and were also popular. The Pearl has lots of evening dining options. We ate about half the evenings in the Summer Palace, the larger of the main dining rooms. The food selection was excellent and the taste was good, but I wouldn’t say stellar. Service was pretty good. We ordered our kids’ dinner as soon as we could and were disappointed that we had to wait 45 minutes for their food to come several nights. The two adult starter courses often came before their food. The over-sized chairs did make getting around the restaurant tricky. You had to plan your route (and so did the serving staff). We ate twice at La Cucina, the Italian no-service-charge restaurant. Our experience was fairly good and they accommodated our party of 13, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by either the service or the menu. The food though was quite good. We loved Mambos, which is billed as Tex-Mex but is really more Mexican. We loved the margaritas and the starters and meals, including desserts were fantastic. We ate there three times and those were our best three meals. My husband and I ate once at the Lotus Garden (Asian fusion) which was very nice. Food and service were excellent. SERVICE I rate the service overall as very good, but not excellent. Everyone was polite and friendly and very engaging with the kids. But a few experiences with lost items left me with the impression I was more of a bother that I was trying to track down something I had lost. DISEMBARKATION The disembarkation was a poor note to end our otherwise excellent trip. The L.A. pier could only accommodate 8 customs agents which meant long lineups. We were only called to get off the ship 90 minutes after our scheduled time only to wait for 2 hours (I believe U.S. citizens had a slightly faster line). NCL claimed the delay was due to passengers not filling out the proper forms and on the customs agents being too thorough. By my assessment, it was a matter of too many passengers and not enough agents something that NCL could have or should have known and planned for. I am disappointed that in an effort to get everyone off the ship as soon as possible they called our group so that we could wait 2 hours (with our kids). Surely they could have waited at least an additional hour before subjecting us to that. SUMMARY Overall we had a fantastic time on this beautiful ship. I heartily recommend both the Panama itinerary and this ship. Read Less
Sail Date April 2007
NCL Pearl---Panama Canal---April 22-May 6, 2007 We will try to break this into parts for ease of reading. Embarking--- What a mess. Need we say more? We arrived at the pier around 1:00pm for an 8:00pm departure. Seems more people ... Read More
NCL Pearl---Panama Canal---April 22-May 6, 2007 We will try to break this into parts for ease of reading. Embarking--- What a mess. Need we say more? We arrived at the pier around 1:00pm for an 8:00pm departure. Seems more people read Cruise Critics then post! Lines were already formed. They held people up at the doors as they needed to hand out the letter that on the previous cruise they had an outbreak of a gastroenteritis virus, offering us a full refund. We choose to continue. We were escorted to the Suite line and waited a few minutes, gave the woman our papers, credit card for onboard account, had our pictures taken and were shown to the Concierge lounge which was full as we waited to board. Total time from arrival at pier to our Courtyard Villa, 14006-the Orchid Suite-was 45 minutes. Courtyard---- What a beautiful area! The colors were vibrant but pleasing to the eye. Very comfortable chairs, loungers and beds!! Our group spent many hours lounging, enjoying the Hot tub and pool. Orange juice, freshly squeezed and ice water were always available with snacks of nuts, M&M's and cookies. The attendant, Sheldon, was a joy to know. Being only 20 years old, Sheldon knew his stuff, always had a smile on his face and made you happy, no matter the mood you were in; he made you smile and laugh. The crew had a night off in Acapulco, going to a club to unwind after the last 5 months with no break. Sheldon bungee jumped for the first time in his life, said he loved it and would do it again. Sheldon is working his second term with NCL and will be part of the opening team on the Gem in October. Villas--- Ours was beautiful. The softness of the greens and gold were nice. The room layout was good. The door opened into a foyer area with the door to the second bedroom on the left. That room was occupied by our friends. After 2 days, a couple of egg crates and a quilt later, it was finally comfortable. They said it was a little tight, but manageable. They did bring a queen air mattress in case, but never used it. We met John D Sousa, our Butler; very nice man from India and is part of the opening team with NCL. He leaves on vacation this weekend and will return to the Gem in October. Also Concierge Alex Forbes came and introduced himself to us. What an experience we had the 2 weeks with Alex. He was great fun; worked with us on our excursions, dinner plans, show plans. Anything we needed, he provided for us. He was instrumental in the great time had by the Cruise Critics and their meetings. He set up bowling and came by to make sure we were enjoying ourselves, if we needed anything or wanted anything. Dining--- Went to lunch in the Garden Cafe the first day and were met with the hand washing routine, the crew handing us the utensils, plates, serving our food and filling our drinks for us. This lasted the first week and then they announced there were no more cases of the virus among the guests or crew. We ate breakfast mostly in the Courtyard with the menus from Cagney's. Our friend traveling with us ordered his usual---steak and eggs. This is served with a 5 oz filet and his standing order was for 2 filets with eggs and croissants. The other items were great but we did order cereal and toast many times. (tired of all the rich food) Lunch was slightly different every day and always had the cold soups available. (cold soup was also served in the Garden cafe daily) All the special restaurants were good with our favorites being Cagney's, Teppanyaki, and Lotus Garden. We ate a couple of times at the Summer Place, Blue Lagoon for snacks, Mambos, La Cuchina's. The other couple that cruised with us tried Indigo one night, said the service was bad and the food cool. Excursions--- We did not go into Jamaica, but did go to Cartagena, Colombia, wow. Beautiful old city with flowers, old forts, old buildings that were built in the 1500's! We decided the Pirates movies were filmed there. A wonderful tour with Eddie as our tour guide with a private tour arranged by Alex. On the Mexican Riviera part, we did two tours of Acapulco. The first one was a sightseeing tour with another tour company arranged by Alex with a private mini van. We decided that Acapulco really is not worth getting off the ship. You go from bad to good to beautiful back to bad again. We saw the night cliff divers after a nice dinner but again, it wasn't the best. When we arrived back at the Pearl, we found a letter asking for feed back about Acapulco. We gladly filled it out. Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas we did nothing. Entertainment--- Very well done. We had three comedians onboard and they provided many laughs. Two Jean A Ryan shows with the last one being the Story of a Geisha. Very, very good with a wonderful pair of rope acrobats. We were to have Pamela Stanley onboard but that was changed at the last minute. No explanations given. The other pianists were very good. Spinnaker was always hopping. Bowling was a blast. The average score for our group was 84 with a high score of 102 with one of our CC bowlers. Disembarking--- Another mess but because we were Suite passengers we had Alex to escort us off. Customs was the hold up. They started searching luggage and caused huge lines. We did not find out what happened but DEA had the dogs sniffing luggage and finding problems. We did lose a piece of luggage, but not the fault of NCL. Another passenger had taken it thinking it was theirs. While searching all rooms with four NCL ladies, we decided it was gone. We started filling out the paper work when one lady received a phone call from a NCL rep at LAX, explaining what happen, We found his bag, took it to LAX and exchanged it. All was well. Final thoughts--- The Pearl is a beautiful ship and the crew and staff were wonderful. Some slight problems were noticed with some crew complaining and not happy they were on the Pearl. Management was aware of the problems and they were handled efficiently and quietly. Alex Forbes is an outstanding Concierge. Our favorite server, Sanja, from the Star has received a promotion and is now an Assistant maitre d'. Sanja is also part of the opening team for NCL and will be joining the Gem in September. We still enjoy NCL and the Freestyle cruising and will be cruising again in the future. Read Less
Sail Date April 2007
I am a 69 year old lady and traveled with another senior citizen lady. This was her 4th cruise on NCL and my 2nd. We arrived in Miami on Sat night. Sun. afternoon we were taken to the ship and got in the Latitudes line and were in our ... Read More
I am a 69 year old lady and traveled with another senior citizen lady. This was her 4th cruise on NCL and my 2nd. We arrived in Miami on Sat night. Sun. afternoon we were taken to the ship and got in the Latitudes line and were in our cabin within 20 min. Lunch at Garden Buffet and then explored the Ship. We took shore excursions in all ports, Ocho Rios, Cartagena, Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. All were interesting. The trip thru the canal was awesome. Watched most of it from the front row in the Spinnaker Lounge. The food was great. Ate most of dinners in Summer Palace getting there early enough to get a window table. Ate one night in Indigo and Two nights in Mambos. Il popo inMambos was really good. Breakfast and lunch were in Garden Buffet. Went to all but two of the shows. The best were Igor Portnoi and the Jean Ann Ryan Reviews. The acrobats were fantastic. Went to several of the adult only things in the Spinnaker Lounge. We spent many night listening to Trio Los Amigos. The crew was very friendly and the service was great. The Pearl is a beautiful ship. It was nice to have laundry facilities, Our cabin had a big window and we like the layout of the bathrooms. The only bad part of the cruise was debarking. It took 2 ½ hrs to get off .due to lack of customs agents so we were unable to take our Los Angeles shore excursion.. Wish they would have had some T shirts with the ship on and saying inaugural season. I am looking forward to taking another cruise on NCL. Really like the freestyle with not having to get real dressed up and being able to eat when and where we wanted. In the word of Simon we had a SMASHING trip. Read Less
Sail Date April 2007
My wife and I are in our late 50's from Victoria Australia. We have cruised with NCL Wind in Hawaii before and had no hesitation in booking another trip with NCL. Embarkation was slow and annoying. Our latitudes membership ... Read More
My wife and I are in our late 50's from Victoria Australia. We have cruised with NCL Wind in Hawaii before and had no hesitation in booking another trip with NCL. Embarkation was slow and annoying. Our latitudes membership didn't count. It took about an hour to get on board. Disembarkation was delayed by 90 minutes which resulted in our visit to the everglades being cut short. Not happy! Here is some advice for the land excursions. In Mexico don't bother booking any. You can either walk to the city center or safely take a taxi to see the sights. In Columbia at the cruise terminal you can hire a taxi and do a three hour tour of Cartagena without the hassles of getting in and out of coaches. We shared a taxi with another couple and cost about $30 per couple. In Costa Rica we booked the NCL tour to the Slouth Santurary; a great experience. In Key West just get a map and walk to the major attractions, including the bars. On board the Pearl, we enjoyed the free style dining and both put on about 8lbs. Perhaps the several buckets of beer didn't help either.We went to most of the night shows and found them reasonably entertaining. Overall, we had a great time, apart from the beginning and end. Read Less
Sail Date September 2007
My husband and I just returned from an 18 day Repositioning/Panama Canal cruise on NCL's Sun. This is our fifth cruise, but first with NCL. We have previously sailed with Carnival, RCI and Princess. We chose this cruise for the ... Read More
My husband and I just returned from an 18 day Repositioning/Panama Canal cruise on NCL's Sun. This is our fifth cruise, but first with NCL. We have previously sailed with Carnival, RCI and Princess. We chose this cruise for the itinerary - a lot of new and interesting ports for us. I will break this review down to categories to make it easier to follow. Embarkation: An absolute nightmare and the worse experience we have ever had so far. The Sun was not scheduled to depart from San Diego until Midnight. Due to the late sailing, we tried to determine when we could board prior to the cruise and received various answers from NCL, ranging from 1:00 PM to 6:00 PM. No one at NCL seemed to have a clue. When we arrived at the port at about 2:00 PM, we were told that there would be a delay due to the fact that another line's ship was in the Sun's space and we would have to wait until it departed first (at about 4:00 PM). NCL had provided shuttles for guests to use to go shopping. We did this for a couple of hours and then returned to the port. When we returned, we were given a number for boarding. At about 7:00 PM, they started calling the numbers which turned out to be group numbers. They then stopped boarding and explained that there was a delay due to problems with the key cards. When they did resume, they simply called out the boarding numbers in loud voices - no PA or overhead signs. Given the mass of people in the waiting areas, they could not be heard. We did not get onboard until 10:00 PM and by that time, we were so tired, we just went to our cabin and slept. NCL still charged us the $10.00/day/guest service charge for that day! I understand that problems do occur on occasion, but just a little suggestion to NCL - invest in a couple of small chalkboards so that the boarding numbers can be displayed overhead so guests can see when their boarding number is called. Also, don't charge people a full day's service charge for 2 hours of sleeping. Ship: The Sun is spotless and pretty in an understated sort of way. A little difficult to navigate around the decks. On more than one occasion, we would find ourselves heading in the wrong direction and turn around only to find a fellow guest laughing due to the fact they had just done the same thing. Crew: In general, the staff was friendly and helpful. I say in general due to a couple of bad experiences. On one occasion, I decided to go to the Sports Bar for a late night snack - the only place you can find something to eat after 11:00 PM. When I entered, there were two customers having drinks and one staff member. I looked at the menu and approached the staff member to place an order to bring back to my cabin. He told me rather curtly that I would have to take a seat first. OK - I'm willing to play by the rules. I took a seat and than was totally ignored. Without so much as a "someone will be with you in a minute to take your order", I gave up after waiting 15 minutes. Possibly due to the late hour and the fact I was rather hungry, I was not pleased. I decided to go to the reception desk and lodge a complaint. The one girl in reception at the time met my complaint with a rather blank look and offered absolutely no solution. The other poor experience we had was in the Pacific Heights alternate restaurant. We had heard that they served very good mussels and since my hubby adores mussels, we decided to give them a try for dinner one night. My husband ordered both the chowder and the mussels. He was served the chowder, but not the mussels. When we inquired about the mussels, we were informed rather rudely by our waiter that my husband had not ordered mussels. I clearly heard him order this. A good waiter would have said "I'm sorry, I must not have heard you and I'll get them for you" and would not have argued in such a manner with the customer. Oh well, it was a long cruise. Food: The worse we have ever had on any cruise line. The food in the main dining room was horrible. On one occasion, several of us at the table ordered Paella and none of us could eat it after the first bite. My husband ordered Chioppino one night (NCL's version is spaghetti pasta with a little marinara sauce and a few shell fish on top - not what most consider Chioppino - perhaps they should refer to a cookbook). He became very sick to his stomach that night - vomiting the dinner up. Fortunately, he was better the next morning. On a seven day cruise, they have lobster one night and a chocolate extravaganza on one night. You would think that on an 18 day cruise this would at least be doubled - not so. Only one lobster night (the lobster was dry - how do you mess up lobster?) and one chocolate extravaganza. Give me a break NCL - I am not a picky eater. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese often suffices as a gourmet meal in our household. What I would have given for a little Kraft M&C on this cruise. Due to the poor and limited offerings in the main dining rooms, we were forced to pay extra to eat at the alternate restaurants during the majority of our cruise. Maybe this is NCL's intention. For the most part, the alternate restaurants are good. We enjoyed Le Bistro (the chocolate soufflE was very good) and we ate at the Steakhouse several times. The Maitre D' at the steakhouse was particularly nice and we made sure to give him a little something extra at the end of the cruise. Il Adagio was OK, but we were surprised at the limited offerings (no fettuccini alfredo for instance - another of hubby's favorites). NCL does not seem to be very responsive to customer complaints about the food. Several fellow guests that we met and dined with decided to approach the subject with staff. A meeting was set up (I did not know about it in advance and thus did not attend). The food and beverage manager was at the meeting along with a few other staff members. According to our new friends that attended the meeting, the response to their complaints was "no one else seems to be complaining". Apparently they don't take the time to walk around the ship and listen to what the guests are saying. I heard a lot of complaints and absolutely no one was praising the cuisine. Ports of Call: As I explained earlier, this cruise stopped at a number of places. Our first stop was Manzanillo. We didn't book a shore excursion, simply walked about with our new shipboard friends. It is a pretty little city. Next stop was Acapulco. Hubby was not feeling well that day, so we cancelled our plans to go see the cliff divers that night with friends. We only walked about a bit in the morning. Very dirty city and garbage was floating in the harbor. Could not imagine partaking in any of the water sports we observed going on due to the filth in the water. Yuck! Puntarenas, Costa Rica was a lot of fun and beautiful. They had just had several days of rain and several areas were flooded, but we had beautiful weather. The group we were with had hired a van and we went to the crocodile bridge, Carrera national park and Jaco beach. My husband was not able to go with us as planned. He has a heart condition and had gone to see the ship's doctor the day before. He was very well treated by the Sun's medical staff, but since he was having bronchial spasms, the doctor ordered him to take it easy for a couple of days. Just a note to future cruisers - buy trip insurance that includes medical coverage. Although you must pay medical expenses up front, you will at least be reimbursed later. Remember, most medical insurance, including Medicare, will not pay for medical expenses incurred while traveling to foreign countries. Carrera national park was great. Our group hired a guide (recommended) for $100 which worked out to just a little over $10 per person. The guide was very knowledgeable, pointing out various plants and animals. We saw Macaws, monkeys, lizards, butterflies and numerous tropical plants with various medicinal properties. I am actually glad that hubby didn't go on this one as it turned out to be quite a hike. He would have had problems negotiating some of the areas with his cane. The Panama Canal crossing was great and I took loads of pictures showing the locks closing, filling up, etc. Gatun Lake is massive with beautiful flora along it's banks. Was disappointed that we did not see any animal life from the ship, but they must have been taking advantage of the wonderful weather as well. Cartagena, Columbia was the big surprise. I was a little apprehensive about this port, but was pleasantly surprised. We took a cab into the old town section and spent the day wandering around the various little streets. Although the sellers are numerous and often in your face, most have licenses hanging around there necks and a firm "no" suffices. Since Columbia is actively trying to encourage tourist trade, they are really going out of there way to make Cartagena a regular cruise destination. They have an entire force of "Policia Tourista" on the job and noticeably evident everywhere in the major tourist areas. Although most speak limited English (if at all), they still try to be helpful to the tourists. My limited Spanish skills managed to get our group by in terms of finding directions, etc. Santa Marta is new to the cruise ship itineraries and still has a way to go. The streets were torn up and the locals seemed to be curious about this new invasion of cruise ship passengers. On the bright side, they haven't figured out the economics yet, so we didn't have people in our face trying to sell us something every other foot. Give them a couple of years and they'll get the hang of it. An hour of walking about was sufficient for us and then back to the ship. Roatan , British Honduras, is a small island off the coast and located in the middle of the second largest reef system in the world. Beautiful water!!! We only went into the little village near the port and did not take any excursions to the other side of the island (which I understand is considerably more cosmopolitan and developed). Lots of little shops and sellers trying to get one to buy the same old touristy stuff. After the first couple of shops, everything looked the same. Belize was our next stop and we had a great time. We booked a cave tubing excursion through Cave-Tubing. Com. I highly recommend them over the cruise ship's excursion. Not only is it half the price, but you receive much more personal attention and assistance. Yhony runs the company and I cannot say enough good things about him and his operation. He is starting up a new phase of ATV's and as a bonus, he took our group on a short ATV ride through the rain forest to introduce us to this. Had a great time, got very muddy, and appreciated that the cave-tubing was following. Since my husband walks with a cane, Yhony gave him a lot of personal attention. He stayed with him on the walk to the area where you enter the water and carried his tube for him and me as well. He then stayed with the two of us during the entire cave-tubing, making sure we did not get stuck and enjoyed the experience. Two other guides were with us as well and they gave the same level of service to the other members in our group. We saw several others on the cruise ship excursion and they had basically been left on their own. We are not excursion intensive cruisers, but this one is one we will certainly remember. Thank-you so much Yhony for this wonderful experience and the next time we are in Belize we will be sure to look you up again. Our final stops were Cozumel and Nassau. We were originally scheduled to stop off in Costa Maya, but due to the hurricane, it was replaced with Cozumel. Since we have been to both ports previously, we just walked around and did some shopping. I had to get a ring repaired in Nassau and discovered a great little jewelry repair shop, Islandman Jewelers. Not much of a shop, but quality and timely jewelry repairs. Very nice guy as well. Just a note, I had to have the ring repaired because it was damaged by a jeweler in Cozumel - Silver Planet. I was having a stone set and not only did they use lead solder, but they damaged the existing settings as well. Buyer beware - do not shop there. I should have complained initially, but they took longer than they originally quoted and it was getting late - we had to get back to the ship. It was only while on the tender that I noticed the poor workmanship and damage. In addition, the stone I purchased was not what they claimed. They are crooks and intentionally market faceted quartz as precious stones. Although I am somewhat savvy when purchasing gems, this one just proved to me that I should not be so cocky in the future and that I need to bring my gem tester with me next time. Previously, we have had good experiences purchasing stones in the Caribbean and this is the first time I have been seriously ripped off by a dealer passing off totally fake merchandise. And for those of you who think it serves me right for not shopping at Diamonds International or any of the other "cruise ship recommended shops", do some searching on the internet. There are some very serious horror stories about Diamonds International and how customers have paid thousands of dollars in some cases for junk with no recourse or resolution. I guess I can count myself lucky that I didn't loose that much on this one and my ring is back to its original glory. Debarkation: This went very smoothly. We chose the express version and were off the ship by 8:30. Were really surprised that Customs was a breeze considering we were carrying our own luggage off. To sum it all up (and I know this has been a lengthy review), both my husband and I had a great time overall on this cruise. Even with the mishaps, we thoroughly enjoyed the ambience with fellow passengers and the great ports of call. Would we book with NCL again? Probably not, due solely to the food. After all, one of the things we enjoy the most about cruising is trying out new dishes and not having to pay extra for a decent meal. If NCL ever wakes up and decides to address the food issue, we would consider them again, if for no other reason than the itineraries they offer. We are already planning our next cruise - HAL's Noordam - for a 20 day next fall. I have heard that HAL has fairly good food - I'll let you know. Read Less
Sail Date October 2007
The embarkation went fine - we arrived at the port by Taxi around 11:30 and had no problem getting on. We were on board within an hour and in the stateroom by 1:45. The room is nice and spacious. Really enjoyed the balcony. No need for ... Read More
The embarkation went fine - we arrived at the port by Taxi around 11:30 and had no problem getting on. We were on board within an hour and in the stateroom by 1:45. The room is nice and spacious. Really enjoyed the balcony. No need for bungie cord as the doors slide (unlike Carnival which open out). The bed was hard as expected, but our cabin steward put another duvet under the sheet which worked fine. I really like the layout of the ship. The entertainer in Henry's Pub was really good - sings great James Taylor and Clapton! We thought the Buffet was really good - not sure what all the fuss is about there. Do try the stir fry with the spicy sauce. We liked both Windows and Garden Restaurants. Also went to Cagney's and La Bistro and highly recommend both of these as well. We had a great time in the Casino - stay away from the "let it Ride Table" and stick to Black Jack. We did quite well there. The slots are pretty fair to if you know when to stop feeding them. I was not too crazy about the attitude of some of the staff, but everyone was polite for the most part. Our Room Steward (Angel) has very little personality and doesn't seem to like his job too much. The one thing I don't like about this ship is the only restaurant open was the Blue Lagoon - a counter in the hallway. They wont let you take food to go and the room service menu has very little on it. I liked the outdoor pizza place on Carnival much better. Don't expect to be entertained too much at the shows. The acrobat family is nice, but you kind of get tired of seeing them hold each other in the air. Second City was nothing to get worked up about either. We only did one NCL excursion - 2 tank dive with Anthony's Key Resort. It was OK, but they really rush you along. The other dives were booked with other agencies and went fantastic. I won't book with the cruise lines again. Beware, however, they will tender the NCL excursions before you can get off the ship - in Belize it was after 9 before we were allowed to leave. Disembarkation was very easy - we stalled as our flight left at 3pm but still got off at 10:30 without rushing. You could easily make a 12:00 flight. All in all, It was a relaxing time, but I prefer Carnival over NCL and will probably try other cruise lines before going back. Read Less
Sail Date December 2007
Norwegian Jade - Panama Canal - February 2008 This is my ninth cruise and my second with Norwegian. I wanted to go through the Panama Canal in a forward facing balcony, and that is what I have. Something that I started while on the NCL ... Read More
Norwegian Jade - Panama Canal - February 2008 This is my ninth cruise and my second with Norwegian. I wanted to go through the Panama Canal in a forward facing balcony, and that is what I have. Something that I started while on the NCL Star (my fifth cruise) was to write my review while I was on the ship. This means I am writing my review while things are fresh in my mind. This review is fairly long, about 28 type written pages. Day one - Embarkation I live in Los Angeles, so I normally drive to the port when leaving from San Pedro or Long Beach. However, this is not a round trip cruise. I will fly back into Burbank, which is about 45 miles from the port. So after checking taxi fares, I decide to hire a limo. The driver arrived a few minutes early and soon I was on my way to the port. As we approach the port I see that there are three ships in port today. The Diamond Princess will be heading to Hawaii. The NCL Jade will be going to Miami via the Panama Canal. The Golden Princess will be heading to Puerto Vallarta on its weekly Mexican Rivera cruise. My plan was to arrive about one hour prior to the normal boarding time of noon. However, in this case there was nobody getting off the ship (this is the maiden cruise of the Jade, though it is not the maiden cruise for this ship, as it used to sail as the Pride of Hawaii) so people were boarding when I arrived at 10:50am. By 11:15 I was checked in and on the ship. While waiting to check in I started speaking to the couple behind me. Turns out they have one of the two Garden Villas. I thought the Garden Villa residents got whisked through check in. I guess not. We both ended up exploring the ship at the same time, so we ran into each other in three different places on the ship. While the outside says Norwegian Jade, the inside says Hawaii all over. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful ship. There are two pools on the pool deck, a good sized water slide plus a rather small kid's play area (that is two decks higher). Since this is a thirteen night cruise, during the school year, there are very few kids (looks like less than twenty). I decide to have lunch at the Garden Cafe. I sample six things. The noodles were average, but the sandwich, corn, rice, chicken and meat loaf were all good. Nonetheless, I am really looking forward to the sail away BBQ chicken. As I recall from my Norwegian Star cruise, it is very good. In fact as I explore the ship I realize it is laid out very similarly to the Star (except the Star does not have the courtyard villas). There one humorous situation during my exploration of the ship. As I walk along the deck 13, which is one deck above the pool deck, I approach the rear of the ship. I see another good sized pool, which does not seem to strange since the Star had a good sized kid's area on the aft. But this pool seems pretty big and there are what appear to be cabins over looking it. About the time I get really impressed by this I realize what I am looking at. The Diamond Princess and the NCL Jade are back to back. I'm looking at the aft pool on the Diamond Princess. There are two other mental notes I make while exploring the ship. If you want to walk from front to rear on the public decks (seven and twelve) walk on the starboard (right) side. You cannot go from front to rear on the left side. If you are in one of the hallways were there are cabins, look down. If the dolphins are swimming in the same direction you are, you are headed forward. If not, you are headed aft. Well, having explored the ship from end to end, on several decks, I decide to check out my cabin. I am in a forward facing penthouse suite. It is the forward facing balcony that I wanted. I'll have a front row seat for the Panama Canal that I will not have to fight for, nor will I lose it if I get up and go to the bathroom. The suite is about the size of mini or junior suite on most other ships. It has all the suite amenities however, including a tub/shower combination, suite status (butler & concierge), a DVD player, a large flat screen TV, plenty of drawer space (of which I am using less than half), two safes and a large closet (it is not a walk in closer, but you can walk through it, as it opens on both sides). After exploring my cabin I decide to set up my computer and put away the things from my carry-on that should go in the safe (passport, cash, cell phone & water proof camera), since my luggage has not arrived yet. Normally I don't do the Internet while on vacation, but there is a lot of interest in this cruise and this ship, so I decide to take advantage of the $100 OBC my agent gave me (I have a wonderful agent - even without the gifts) and sign up for the 250 minute Internet plan. There is an Internet port in the cabin, and I have the proper cable. I go to the Internet Cafe and find out that sign up is done via the computer. About the time I sign up and check things out for 16 minutes, and answer one of the big questions (yes, there is self service laundry, the closest one for me is across from cabin 9088 - however, it will be removed while the ship is in dry dock in Spain), it is time for the muster drill. The muster drill is at 3:30pm and we leave at 4:00pm. My muster station is inside the Stardust Theater. The drill doesn't last too long, and since I was one of the last to arrive (I had to log off the Internet first) I am in the back and only two floors below my cabin. So I get back to my cabin quickly. My luggage has arrived, and I start putting it away, always keeping one eye out the balcony door. I want to be on my balcony for the sail away. We are at berth 92 and facing the Lane Victory (a World War II Liberty ship). This means we will have to go under the bridge into the turning basin and then we will be on our way. Finally I feel a little vibration and notice that my view of the Lane Victory seems to have changed a little. I go out to the balcony and soon meet all my neighbors. We slowly move into the turning basin and then I feel a small vibration again, as the side thrusters begin turning the ship. Soon we are facing the right way and we start to move forward. This is when I notice that the Golden Princess has also start to leave. While we were spinning the Golden Princess has backed out. So we have two cruise ships leaving at the same time. Welcome to rush hour in the harbor channel. Little do I realize just how busy it was going to get. With these two ships looking to get out, there are two equally large cargo ships wanting to get in, and we all seemed to meet at the break water. Each ship managed to accomplish its goal without becoming part of a giant game of bumper boats. Once out to sea I decide to head to the pool deck for my much anticipated BBQ chicken. Unfortunately there are no grills and thus no BBQ chicken. It is listed in Freestyle Daily - SAILAWAY PARTY & BBQ: Poolside is the place to be as we embark on a cruise vacation of a lifetime! ... I even ask one of the deck hands who says that usually there is a sail away BBQ, maybe tomorrow for lunch. Disappointed I head to Papa's Italian Kitchen (one of the free specialty restaurants). I ask if they can take someone without a reservation and in a few minutes I am seated. I had pasta with meat sauce and sausage. The food was good, but not as good as the BBQ chicken was on the Star 2 ½ years ago. I come back and write this until it is time for the 8:00 SEA-N-N show taping. Say it out loud and you will see that this is a play on words (Sea N N - CNN). It stands for Sports, Entertainment & Activities Nightly Network. Basically the cruise director is taping something to play on the TV explaining what activities are available on the NCL Jade. Apparently they are having trouble with their new printer, and tomorrow's Freestyle Daily will be a half sized Special Cruise Notice (only two pages instead of four). I'm glad he told us, or I would not have realized what it was. Basically it is just a list of what is happening when. Well, I like it cold, so I try an experiment by leaving both the balcony door and the bulkhead door (since it is a forward facing balcony there is both a door and a bulkhead door) open. Nothing much happens so then I go to the cabin door and open that. I expected a breeze, but I expected it to come in, not out. All this did was take warm air from the hallway and send it into the cabin. Okay, bad idea. Another problem is forward facing lights make it difficult for the people on the bridge to see, so we have to keep the curtains closed (or the cabin lights off). Though it is early, I am tired (I must have walked the entire length of the ship at least ten times - that is at least two miles). So it is off to bed I go. Day two - day at sea I really like days at sea because they are so relaxing. This one was a little more relaxing than I thought it would be. I woke up at 4:30am (which is good - I like to get sunrise photos) and went back to sleep. When I woke up again I figured it was 6:30am (a good time to get out of bed for catching a sunrise). However, I became suspicious when I saw all the light coming under the curtains. What time is it? 8:30am! Too late! That is it, for now on just the sheer curtain will cover the window. I'll keep the lights low. So, I figure I'll relax some more and I catch one of the movies on TV. Finally I get up and do what I normally do, eat breakfast on the balcony. Except this time it is going to be real easy. I've got a fruit basket, so I have a breakfast of fruit out on the balcony. As I said, I have a forward facing balcony. Actually I have a very large forward facing balcony. It is probably bigger than an inside cabin. The roof covers about six feet of the balcony, and there is probably another twelve feet of exposed balcony. The balcony is as wide as my cabin, which is wider than any standard cabin. So, even if it rains while we are going through the canal I'll still have a dry front row seat. So, you are probably wondering about the wind. We are headed south at between 22 and 23 knots (25 ½ to 27 MPH). Yet there is little to no wind. How is that possible? Because we have a tail wind. Life is good! Also, I really do not notice much movement. The seas are slight (1.5 to 4 feet) so that might have something to do with that. After breakfast I decide to go and explore the ship to see what I missed yesterday and to see things in action. It is kind of strange, but on a ship full of adults I find that the adults are doing all the things the kids usually do. They are playing ping pong, shuffle board, basketball and soccer. There is a full sized basketball court with soccer goals at each end. There is even four rows of stadium seating above the basketball court. Finally I hear some high pitched voices and decide to see what is going on. There are three kids and three counselors in the kid's area throwing balls at each other. They are having a great time, and since none of the kids are mine, I stay only long enough to see what is up and leave. Another interesting find is the bridge viewing window. It is large and gives several people a great view of the bridge. Of course it sounds more interesting than it really is, since the ship is on auto pilot and everyone on the bridge is just looking out the window to make sure we don't bump into anything. Well, it is getting on towards noon and there is no BBQ being set up in the pool area. So I grab a sausage hot dog (a sausage in a hot dog bun), a chicken leg and a pickle and decide to have lunch on the balcony. Because I spent ½ the morning in the cabin the poor cabin stewardess hasn't had the chance to clean the cabin yet, and now she sees me coming back with lunch. I tell her no problem; I'll be on the balcony. It's all good, even the chicken, but not as good as the BBQ chicken I remember from the Star. Though I bought my shore excursions online, and the tickets were delivered to the cabin, I still have to sign a release. So I leave the cabin to the cabin stewardess and head for the shore excursion desk for the third time. This time the line is short and I sign my release and get my snuba ticket for Grand Cayman. Stingray City is my all time favorite shore excursion. However, through my research I could not find out the local time the ship would be in Grand Cayman (I know the ship's time - but I don't know what time zone the ship's time will be on when we get to Grand Cayman). I wanted to try an independent outfit, but without knowing the local time that we will be there, I decide to try something new and go with the ship's excursion. So snuba and a tour in Cartagena are the only ship's tours I am taking on this cruise. In all the ports in Mexico I'm going to do something on my own (since I've been to each one at least once before). Well at 1:15pm there is a Latitudes reception. We get to meet the captain and the senior staff. I am wearing my NCL Star shirt and the door monitor asks me how many NCL cruises I've been on (this is my second). I mention that I missed the BBQ and she says I have to speak to the executive chef about that. Well, I'm not ready to take my case that high up yet. However, if I find the cruise director, I'll ask him. The captain mentioned that the highlight of this cruise for him will be going through the Panama Canal. That is probably true for most of the people on this ship, both passengers and crew. After the reception I go back to the cabin to decide what to do next and the two free drinks I had at the Latitudes reception kick in. It's almost 4:00 when I regain consciousness and I decide to check out the pool. The pool is fresh water and warm enough (I took a short three night cruise to Ensenada in December and that water was cold). Just before 5:00 I head back to the cabin and I am typing this while waiting for the captain's VIP reception at 7:00pm. This is another perk of the suite life. So here I am, sitting on my balcony typing my review and the door bell rings. It's the butler with a gift from the concierge. There are three chocolate covered strawberries and a VIP tender ticket (Cabo is a tender port). The poor butler has been trying hard to do something for me and I finally decide to ask him for a DVD. I'll watch it within 48 hours. At any rate, the weather is great, there is no wind. I can hear the waves being made by the bow, and the only thing left is to figure out what am I going to do for dinner. I've already decided that dinner will come after the VIP reception. I want to try out one of the free restaurants, because there will be plenty of time to try out the extra cost restaurants later. So this might be a good time to explain Freestyle Dining. I count twelve restaurants. There are two main restaurants, one buffet, one cafe (fast food fare), two free specialty restaurants and six extra cost restaurants. The main restaurants, buffet and cafe are free and don't require reservations. The two free specialty restaurants do require reservations, but will take walk ins if there is room, and the extra cost restaurants require reservations and cost anywhere from $10 to $20. Most are open for dinner from 5:30pm to 10/30pm. With Freestyle Dining you pick the restaurant and the time. There is no set dinner time or place. Also, you can choose who you eat with. I'll comment more on this later in the cruise. Yesterday I scanned the TV to see what was on, and instantly recognized my favorite channel from the Star as I soon as I see it. It is channel 22 and it provides the weather log, the captain's log and the navigator's log. I love this channel and I call it the travel channel. I have it on all the time. It is 6:30pm; we are 525 miles from Los Angeles and have 301 miles to go to Cabo. At 1:00pm today the captain made a general announcement said that we were on time. Channel 23 is the forward facing camera channel. Big deal, if I want to see what is in front of us I'll look out the window. Well, I'm back from the VIP reception and dinner, and have some terrible news. I told the cruise director that I missed the BBQ chicken. He called someone over (apparently the person in charge of ordering supplies) and told him I was on the Star, I remembered the BBQ chicken, and I missed it. That is when I was informed that we would not be getting any BBQ chicken on this cruise. Seems he ordered five large BBQ units, and what he received was two thirteen inch grills. However, he assured me that he had plenty of charcoal. It is not going to ruin my cruise, but I am disappointed. It had been only six hours since I last shook hands with the captain. So at the VIP reception I told him, "Long time no see." He got the joke and laughed. I was able to have a long conversation with the head of IT (Information Technology - basically the computers). He used to live in Las Vegas and when it got too big moved to Hilo. There he hung around for a while until he got bored. He then took a job with Norwegian sweeping floors. I asked how long he had been with Norwegian and he said four years. Amazed I asked, "You went from sweeping floors to the head of IT in four years?" He said he had done IT work for 20 years (in Las Vegas) and when he first started with Norwegian he did not tell Norwegian about his IT skills. Obviously Norwegian found out anyway. I asked him about the crew's life. He explained that most crew works a split shift, so they all have a chance to spend time in the ports. He also said that many work on a rotating basis, meaning that one is on call while so the other can take time off. So the crew does get a chance to get off the ship on port days. My butler was at the VIP reception also. He told me he had requested a transfer to a state side ship. The reason is that Europe is so far away, he will not have the chance to call all home (the Philippines). I feel bad for people who have to spend so much time away from their families because of work. I hope he gets his wish. He is trying so hard to do something for me, and I am really more of a low maintenance type. I appreciate the effort, but he is going to have to trust me that if I need something I'll ask. Otherwise, I'm sitting out on my balcony listening to the bow of the ship as it moves through the water. It's very dark and I can't see a thing, but the temperature, while cool for most people is very much to my liking, I have been fully fed, and my biggest concern today was keeping out of the room steward's way. What else do I need (besides BBQ chicken) that the butler could provide (legally)? I had dinner in the main restaurant (Grand Pacific). There are monitors on the wall giving the wait times. I just have not figured them out. I assume the longer bar means a long wait. However, the bar for Jasmine was very long, and when I walked past not only was there no line, but I saw empty tables. Nonetheless, it is an extra cost restaurant and I'll get to it later. I headed to the Grand Pacific restaurant and there was no line. I said I wanted to share and ended up sharing a table with three people in one of the Courtyard Villas. Apparently it was a couple and his mother. We compared suites, cruise experience (they had cruised before, but not with Norwegian) and the make up of the passengers (very few kids). While I like kids, and have never had a problem with kids on a cruise, even on ships with 800 of the little tykes running around, they clearly appreciated the lack of kids. Okay, to each their own. It does make for a different atmosphere. I'm not making a value judgment here, just noting that it is different. I mentioned my observation this morning that the adults were doing the things the kids were normally doing. The husband said that he went to the basketball court, found it empty, and shot baskets for a half hour. He had not gone down the water slide yet, but was willing to give it a try (I actually did see an adult go down the water slide, though for the most part it was the kids who were going down the water slide). I had the prime rib and it was good, which is an improvement over my experience in the main restaurant on the Star. My three table mates were very interesting and I am glad I had the chance to meet them. Perhaps we will bump into each other some more during the cruise. Well, it is 11:00pm and we have to set our clock ahead one hour tonight. I only closed the sheer curtain and to my surprise the room stewardess did not close the main curtain (which I would have opened anyway). All the lights are off in the cabin except the TV (which I have on the travel channel) and one reading light. I checked and I am not casting a shadow on the balcony when I stand in the door, so I should be okay. Also, I have not received a call to turn off the lights or close the curtain, so I think I've got this all worked out. Good night - see you tomorrow in Cabo. Day three - Cabo I wake up to a gentle glow. It is 6:30am and sunrise is 6:50am. Sure enough the sun waits until it is time to rise and I snap off a few pictures. Then it is back to sleep, since we are still three hours from port (we arrive at 10:00am). I finally get up, shower and get dressed around 9:00am. Last night I was thinking of leaving my door open. Finally, out of an abundance of caution (just in case there was a rouge wave) I decided not to. Good thing I didn't, because while there was no rouge wave, everything on the balcony was wet with dew. Had I left the door open, the inside of the cabin would have suffered the same fate. We arrived in Cabo early. It is only 9:30am. I meet my butler on the balcony (he is on the neighbor's balcony) and we get to talking again. He says his best friend is on the Star (which is anchored next to us) and we get to talking about his family. He has an eight year old, a three year old and a six month old. He says when he goes back home they are all grown up. It is tough for people who are away from home for long periods of time. Children grow up fast. There are two other ships in port, the HAL Oosterdam and the NCL Star. The Oosterdam is on is Mexican Riviera run and will go to Mazatlan next. The Star is also doing a Mexican Riviera cruise and this is its last stop. It will head to Los Angles when it leaves Cabo. We will meet up with the Golden Princess in PV tomorrow. I take some more photos and then have some more fruit for breakfast. Being in a suite I can have breakfast at Cagney's. It is free and sounds rather good (the people I had dinner with last night have eaten both breakfast and lunch at Cagney's. Only those in a suite can have breakfast and/or lunch at Cagney's. My plan is to check out the town in the morning and rent a jet ski in the afternoon. At 10:00 I head for the tender and by 10:15 I'm on it. I get lucky, some Mexican officials came to the ship, and we get to take their boat back. It is an open air boat. The ship's tenders are not open air, and thus get a little stuffy when full of people. Once on the dock I am greeted by the usual group of people you see at every Mexican port. Either someone has a great deal on whatever, or some kid is selling gum. My goal is to look for a place that rents jet skis and perhaps find a good view of the bay. I walk along the marina and see one place that rents jet skis. I get to the other end of the marina and decide to do some exploring. I am looking for a back entrance to the beach. I have been to Cabo twice before and always entered the beach next to the harbor entrance. This time I hope to find another way to the beach, and in the process see a part of town I had not seen before. When I first came to Cabo on the Carnival Pride in May 2004 it was a charming place and my favorite port. About 1 ½ years later I came back on the NCL Star and the place had become so developed that it lost all of its charm. Now they are building all the way down to the beach. Whatever good views of the bay once existed, do not exist anymore. After much walking, I end up entering the beach at the harbor entrance. Well at least walking out to the edge of the breakwater allows for a good photo of the Jade and the other two ships anchored in the harbor. A few feet from the breakwater is someone who rents jet skis. It is a good location and a fair price ($45 for ½ hour or $80 for a full hour). Naturally he wants me to rent it now, but I am in street clothing and my camera is not water proof. I'll be back. I take a water taxi to the tender dock, buy a few souvenirs and tender back to the ship. I tender back to the shore, take a water taxi to the beach, and rent the Jet Ski. First I ask if I have ridden a jet ski before (yes - once). The proprietor explains the rules to me. Not too hard to understand. Don't hit anything, don't run over anyone and don't get to close to the cruise ships. Then he asks if I know how to operate it. I say yes, add power to turn (there is no rudder; the only way to turn is to force a turn by adding power). He laughs and I am off. I am no daredevil. I just want a good advantage point for taking pictures (and yes, I brought a water proof camera with me). I first head out to the seals (which are near El Arco). But there are too many small boats there. So I grab a few pictures of El Arco. The camera just has a small screen, no view finder. Fine when under water, but in bright light the screen is very hard to see. Nonetheless I get some good photos. Then I check out the seals. Still too crowded, so I head over to the cruise ships. I get a few good photos and then head back to the seals. Now it is less crowded and I am able to get some good photos. Then back to the cruise ships for a different angle. A few more shots of El Arco and then I head back in. With three ships in port there are lots of boats going in and out of the harbor. Looks kind of like rush hour. Add to that a few jet skiers who are daredevils and one has to be careful. It is amazing how easy it is not to see some of the smaller boats. Add to that the noise the Jet Ski makes and I could not hear the boat that was over taking me to my left. With another one coming at me, moving to the left seems I good idea. Fortunately I look behind me and realize moving to my left is not an option. Unlike when driving a car, you cannot anticipate where the other boats and/or jet skiers will come from. Add to that that fact that jet skis have no brakes and no reverse and if you are not careful you can find yourself in trouble real quickly. However, jet skis do have two advantages that can be used to keep one out of trouble. One, they are small and maneuverable. Two, they are quick and fast. Sometimes I just put myself halfway between the two things I was trying to avoid. Being small I still had enough of a comfort zone. Other times I just simply hit the power and got out of the way before anything could get close enough to bother me. My waiting to the afternoon had one disadvantage. The wind picked up in the afternoon and what was slight when we came in (1 ½ to 4 feet) was now moderate (4 to 7 feet). The one thing I did not want to do was become air born. Flying doesn't bother me, but the landings do. After what I thought was pretty close to one hour of picture taking and exploring I head in. The owner tells me I've got ten more minutes and sends me back out. A little more exploring and finally I come in. Since I was a customer, I get a free ride on a water taxi back to the tender dock. I walked completely around the marina in the morning. It cost me $3 for a water taxi from the beach to the tender dock. $7 for a water taxi from the tender dock back to the beach and free from the beach back to the tender dock (they would have charged me $2 otherwise). So there is room to negotiate the water taxi prices. Back on the ship I decide to do a little swimming in the fresh water pool. So I try out the other pool this time and much to my surprise it is salt water. I could tell before I reached the bottom step because salt water is denser than fresh water, and thus people, including me, float better in salt water. Standing straight up I float about 8-9 inches higher in salt water compared to fresh water. I could feel the water supporting me before my feet reached the bottom of the pool. Oh well, I was already in the water. I swam a few laps and then headed to the other pool which is fresh water. The forward pool is fresh water and the adults only. The aft pool is salt water and open to everybody. I decide to attend the early show and make reservations for Cagney's at 9:00pm. The entertainment tonight is an opera singer (a tenor). I'm not really an opera person, but this guy is pretty good. So was the 24 oz porterhouse steak at Cagney's. When ordering I ask if I can have one or two sides. The waiter tells me I can have three or four. I forgot, only the steak is limited, everything else, just like in the main restaurant, is unlimited. I have fries and corn. For some unknown reason the meal is half price. I leave a little extra tip and go downstairs to check on the photographs. There are no new photographs to view, so I go back to the cabin. We have to move the clocks ahead again tonight, so there goes another hour of sleep. Day four - Puerto Vallarta We keep moving the clocks ahead, so the sunrises are getting later and later. I look outside and there is nothing but clouds, so I figure no sunrise this morning. However, some of the clouds clear and I get a few good sunrise photos. Then I check out the travel channel, as we are scheduled to arrive in Puerto Vallarta at 8:30am. Hopefully we will dock. Last time I was here they were building a new dock. I know the Golden Princess will be there waiting and docked (because it snuck ahead of us while we were in the turning basin in San Pedro). Sure enough as we approach PV the Golden Princess is already docked. As we pull in (good, we are docking) I see PV can now dock three large ships. Once again I get to meet all my neighbors on the balcony this morning. We are all going to have a great time when we go through the canal. One of my neighbors is going golfing today. I mention that the web cam must be just above their cabin and they confirm that they actually got in the picture, so the camera angle was moved. I am taking it easy today. I'll leave around 10:00am, take a taxi to downtown and just walk around. And that is what I do. First I head uphill. I get about 300 feet above sea level and then head back down. I walk along the water front, buy a few key rings and then check out the island in the middle of the river. By the time I do all of this it is 2:00pm and I decide to head back (as we have to be on board by 3:30pm). I am dead tired from all the walking and I am looking forward to some hot tub time before the 4:00pm departure, when I want to be back on my balcony. Little do I realize what I am in for. The first thing I find wrong is the bathroom light doesn't work. I am not sure who to call, so I call the concierge. She'll send an electrician. Then I think about it. There are three lights in the bathroom and none of them work. It is very unlikely that all three would fail at the same time, so I try more switches and discover that about half the lights in the cabin don't work. Okay, it must be a circuit breaker or fuse. I call the concierge and tell her the problem is even worse. She agrees it must be the circuit breaker. She tells me to call her if no one shows up in ½ hour. No one shows up, so I call again. She gets someone on it. Finally I think I hear someone at the door, so I try to open it, and I find that I am locked in (and here I thought no BBQ chicken was bad). Now this is a safety issue so I call the concierge again. Meanwhile I am wondering what else could be wrong. Then I realize that the door has some electronics in it, and that this could all be related. Still, this is a safety issue and the door should open from the inside no mater what. Finally the concierge opens the door (it works fine from the outside, but not from the inside - which is easy to demonstrate). She apologizes for taking so long to get to me, as she was on the other side of the ship (I wasn't worried). She explains the door is the carpenter's responsibility, and he is currently on standby because we are leaving the dock. She is clearly embarrassed and stays at the door until both the electrician and the carpenter show up. Me, I'm on the balcony where I planned to be, the only difference is that my bathing suit is dry. The electrician is the first to solve his problem. All the lights work. The carpenters have removed the entire lock mechanism and we are backing out. We are not just backing out of the dock; we are backing out of the harbor. I guess with the Golden Princess still docked the captain does not believe there is enough room to safely turn around, and back we go, right out of the harbor and half way into the bay. The crew recreation area (crew sun deck and pool) are right below my cabin. So I yell out that it looks like ware going to back all the way to Acapulco. The crew plays along and says they want to make sure I get the full experience. So I respond that great, now I can see where we have been. This gets a laugh out of the crew on the bow. The crew standing next to my door is clearly embarrassed. So, the worst thing that happened is I have to go to the hot tub after we leave and not before - big deal. Missing out on the BBQ chicken is still worse. The captain must have backed the ship a full half mile. That must have been a sight to see for those out on deck on the Golden Princess. After the hot tub I come back and change for the show. I finish changing in time for some great sunset photos. If I had known the sunset was going to be this great I would have gone on deck. The sun set to the right of the ship, so my photos have part of the forward section of the ship in the photos. This sunset deserved an unobstructed view. However, the sunset only lasts two minutes, so I had to remain on my balcony. After what I have been through, those $2.00 peanuts are starting to look pretty good. The suite comes with a fairly well stocked bar. Perhaps instead of having drinks on the deck I'll check out my own private overpriced stash. The show tonight is a comedian. Turns out he does physical comedy, and he is pretty funny. Unfortunately I am in the balcony and miss what turns out to be the funniest party of his routine because he is in the audience where I cannot see him. Still, he is pretty good. Then tonight I have reservations at the Mexican restaurant (the one on the ship). When picking out my entry I suddenly realize that I have not had a hamburger on board yet. I haven't had BBQ chicken either, but there is nothing I can do about that. It is all very good, especially the Tex-Mex hamburger. I go down one flight and I see there are some new photographs. But the prices have gone out of sight. Okay, they are all 8 x 10s (even the port photos) but they are $20 each! I take one of the two captain photos and dump the other photo with the captain and the port photo. So here I am on my balcony. There is a full moon, all my lights work, my door works from both sides and there is a nice cool breeze. Other than BBQ chicken, what else could I want? So far I have yet to have a wind issue on this balcony. We have been sailing in every direction from west to south to east, and wind has never been an issue. Also, we have spent most of our time doing 22 knots (about 25.5 MPH) or better. We are not scheduled to arrive in Acapulco until 3:30pm tomorrow (and we don't leave until noon the next day). Also, I have noticed that the balconies on the tenth deck (I'm on the ninth deck) are either smaller or don't have as large of an overhang as I do. Since the bridge is on deck eleven, the overhang provides both privacy and rain protection. I think I have one of the best balconies on the ship. Also you might be wondering about movement, this far forward. It is not a problem yet. We have had seas from calm to moderate (from smooth to seven foot waves) and with the slight or less seas it is like driving over an expansion joint in the road once in a while. With moderate seas it is like driving over railroad tracks, again, once in a while. I couldn't be happier with the cabin - unless they get the large BBQ units delivered before the end of the cruise. After what happened with the cabin tonight I decide not to tempt fate any longer. My computer is on the desk, as is the ice bucket. Since I leave my computer open most of the time, I decide to move the ice bucket to the table and the frog (which is as white as a bath towel) gets an honored position on the desk next to my computer. Well, it is 11:00pm and I have to get up in time for a mid afternoon approach to Acapulco. Actually I am considering taking advantage of one of my suite perks and have breakfast at Cagney's. So, good night. See ya in Acapulco. FYI, the captain got the ship straightened out. We are going forward. Day five - day at sea day & arrive in Acapulco I wake up before sunrise. It looks like it is going to be a good one. However, at the appointed time there are clouds on the horizon. As a result the sun has to rise further before it can be seen. This means that the entire sky will be brighter and as a result the colors are not as vivid. Oh well, last night's sunset made up for it. Well, after a very nice breakfast at Cagney's I came back to do a little catch up on the Internet, and then I wanted to watch the DVD. However, the DVD player is not working. The butler cannot fix it and he calls the electrician. Apparently being flexible is going to be important. Most likely I'll end up watching the DVD after dinner tonight. I'm thinking of checking out the Blue Lagoon Cafe tonight, since I don't know what my plans in town are yet. We arrived on time in Acapulco. I am not sure why, but both the Star and the Jade proceed very slowly into the harbor, even slower than in the channel in San Pedro. It takes an hour from the time we pick up the pilot until we are docked. The dock is big enough for two ships, and we are the only ship in town. Yet we keep inching forward to the point that I think the ship will shop when we hit the docked tug boat in front of us. Clearly the captain is leaving room for one more ship, but which one? It can't be the Star, we saw the Star in Cabo, and thus the Star is in San Pedro today. It could be the Carnival Spirit, but if it is, it should be here already, and if it is coming tomorrow, it will arrive after we leave. At any rate, we are docked and I'll wait a short time for the line to thin out. I've decided to walk along the beach today, and check out Fort San Diego tomorrow (the fort is across the street from the dock). So, I head to the mid ship elevators and take it down to deck four. Apparently the line has not thinned out yet. On the way down we stop at decks seven, six, five and finally four. I can see the line goes up to deck seven and I'll likely not be able to get off the elevator. We get to deck four and not only is there room to get off the elevator, but the line just started to move. Okay, chalk one up to dumb luck leading to great timing. I go through the shops out to the exit and notice none seem to be selling key rings. I want to get a key ring from every port (and the ship) for my friend's children's key ring collection. I figure I'll be able to pick something up while I am walking. Now I've go to get past the taxi drivers. I tell them I just want to walk. I make it past most of them when one offers me a walking tour of the local shopping. Okay, so I have two key rings in my pocket while I walk along the beach. Things could be worse, so I accept the offer. As we are walking I quickly realize he is going to get a commission for bringing in a customer. Okay, big deal, wait until he finds out I am only going to spend $10. Of course I am offered lots of jewelry for my girlfriend and/or sister. Interesting, I never said I wasn't married (I'm not, but I never said I wasn't). Well, I get my key rings, say no to everything else, and finally, getting tired of saying no, I explain I've been here before and I'm only looking for a souvenir (which all happens to be true). After turning down his other great connection (a "nice" young girl), I walk the 3 - 4 blocks back to the beach with two key rings in my pocket. And now it starts. Do you need a taxi? No thank you. Do you want to go to the cliff divers? No thank you (I saw them last time, I was not impressed). Do I want a massage? No thank you. 75 feet later, do you need a taxi? No thank you. Do you want to go to the cliff divers? No thank you. Do you want a massage? No thank you. 75 feet later, do you need a taxi? … Now first of all, it is pretty clear that these are shall we say "full service" massages. I have walked past several police, both local and federal. Is prostitution legal in Mexico?? And while each taxi driver/madam's runner is easy enough to deal with, there is no way the next one could not have known what questions and answers were given several seconds earlier. Sometimes I just said I just wanted to walk. Most of the time I used a hand signal to indicate I wasn't interested. They are all asking me the same three questions. They have to know that. What do they think; in the last 75 feet I suddenly changed my mind? This is so bad that the next time I come here I am taking a shore excursion. I survived Jamaica where the people are very aggressive. These people are not aggressive, but every 75 feet, every few seconds, it is really getting to me. Finally I reach the sand (I was walking along the sidewalk between the ship and the beach). I head out to the edge of the water and some peace. As I walk I recognize two kids playing in the water. I don't know there names, but kids are so rare on this cruise that they are easy to recognize. There are actually three kids, but the oldest could pass for a young adult at a distance. The father is in the water with them, so I check out the sand. There is a woman pointing her camera at them. That must be Mom. As I get closer I see she is sitting on a ship towel, so I say hello. As soon as she realizes I'm not trying to sell her something she starts talking to me. They are a family from Canada and are on their first cruise. The children are on break and will only miss a few days of school. Soon the father joins us and we talk until the moon rises. The kids think the water is a little cold, but the father says it is easy to get used to. They are all trying to body surf, but the waves are kind of small. I point out that that is the purpose of a harbor. I tell them that coming from Canada they should think the water is warm. Well, it is cooler than the water in the pools on the ship. As to body surfing, I suggested they should have tried Puerto Vallarta since the bay is less protected. They were going to, but the tour lasted until it was time to get back on the ship. Well, I've got this big balcony with a front row seat, and I figured why not offer to share. So tell them about my balcony and offer to have them come and visit when we go through the Panama Canal. Turns out they are in two inside cabins, and I don't think they understand just how big my balcony is. So I offer them the grand tour. Now they are impressed. They may stop by. They are also having trouble getting into the Italian restaurant. It is free, but requires reservations, (though when I was there I was a walk-in and got seated right-a-way). I told them about my luck. I decide that if they continue to have trouble, I'll use my connections (the concierge - it would mean I would have to have dinner with them, but if they really want to get in, why not). I clean up a bit and decide to check out Fort San Diego. Again with the taxi drivers, but this time I go the other way on the side walk, so I miss all the other taxi drivers. It turns out the fort is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:00am to 6:00pm, so I'll hit that tomorrow. Works out great because it is near the ship, and with only about three hours (I figure I'll get out around 8:00am and we have to be back on board at 11:30am) being close to the ship is a good thing. Back on the ship I decide to try Blue Lagoon, which is a 24 hour cafe. As I am walking toward the cafe I pass Jasmine, an Oriental extra cost restaurant. No line there. Where is everyone eating? Soon I have the answer to my question. Everyone is at the cafe tonight, and I'm not interested in waiting in line. It is 9:20pm. I don't know if Jasmine will still be open. I head back and ask it they are open. Yes. Do they have room for one more? Actually that was not a serious question. I can see they have more empty tables then full ones. I enjoy a nice dinner. And the check - it' is half price. I am beginning to think this might be an unadvertised suite perk. However, the half price meals could just be the luck of my timing. I was at both Cagney's and Jasmine late. Both restaurants had more empty tables then full ones. I know from the Star that NCL offers half price meals during less popular times to get people to come during the less popular times. I have approached this cruise a lot differently then all the others. I did not go to the port lectures. I have not been reading the Freestyle Daily (though I am saving it). So, on one hand I could be missing something I might enjoy. On the other hand, I am doing one thing new (the Internet) which I enjoy (except for the price - but thanks to the OBC my agent gave me, it is really only costing me $3.95 - the activation fee). I should add that it is not that fast. I would say it is just a little faster than dial up, but no where near as fast as DSL. I am also sitting on my balcony while I am writing this (I am writing this during the afternoon after we left Acapulco). The travel channel says the seas are slight (1 ½ to 4 foot waves) we are traveling at over 23 knots and I can barely feel the ship swaying back and forth. The temperature of the ocean is 77 degrees, the air temperature is 81 degrees, the relative humidity is 85% and there is a gentle nine knot tailwind. Now that we are south of Acapulco I am now the furthest south I have ever been. From where I am sitting (in the shade) I can barely feel any wind and I can see the sea. If I move up to the rail I am in the sun and there is a little more wind. So where is all of this headed (yes, the ship is headed to the Panama Canal - but I mean this paragraph). I am enjoying myself right now, and I really don't care if I am missing something else that I might enjoy. Okay, back to the day. Well, actually it is night and I have just finished dinner. I decide to go outside and see if I can get a good photo of the ship at night. Well, one the ship is not that colorful at night and two, I could not hold the camera steady enough. It is 11:00pm and although Acapulco has had some problems recently, none if it is directed at the tourists (who having just said no for the three-thousandth time to the thousandth taxi driver, might be willing to be shot). I feel safe and no body is bothering me. Since I went away from downtown to get the night time photos, I am not being bothered by taxi drivers. Day six - depart Acapulco & day at sea I wake up about 7:00am. My cabin is facing west, so no sunrise pictures today. My plan is to check out Fort San Diego, which is right across the street from the ship. I leave the ship sometime after 8:00am and run the gauntlet of taxi drivers. Only apparently they used up my patience yesterday. Today I don't say "no thank you", I just say "no" (Nancy Reagan would be proud). This works fine except for one who becomes a little more aggressive. Around the sixth no it was more like NO! Not only was it loud enough to convince him I really meant it, but the next taxi driver on the sidewalk got out of my way. To my surprise another ship has joined us. The Crystal Symphony is docked behind us. So, the captain was trying to make room for another ship yesterday. I figured it must have arrived in the morning, since it was not there late last night. Mostly out of morbid curiosity (but also because I want to get some pictures of the Crystal Symphony) I walked a short distance toward downtown. I just wanted so see how many street vendors had set up along the sidewalk. The sidewalk was clear. I got my pictures and I then head the other way toward the fort. I run into the family I met yesterday and just say hello. We exchange our plans for the morning and we each head our own way. I arrive at the entrance to the bridge that will take me across the street and to the entrance of the Fort. But it is only 8:55am, so I have to wait a few minutes. The entrance fee is only $4.00. The fort has information signs in both Spanish and English. Above, on the ramparts there is a good view of the city. I finish around 10:00am, which is my goal. I walk toward the ship and decide to check out the sidewalk on the way to downtown one last time. Some street vendors are just starting to set up shop. After that it is back to the ship and I want to take a quick dip in the fresh water pool to cool off. I jump in (feet first) and as I bob to the surface I realize the problem right away. The pool is full of saltwater. I guess they ran out of fresh water. I wonder where they found the extra saltwater. I take a cold water shower and decide to check out the other pool just in case they switched which one was fresh and which one was salt. Rats, both are saltwater today. However, the pool that is closer to the aft is currently closer to the east, thus has been in the shade longer, and therefore is cooler. So I float around for a while. Then take a fresh water shower again, only to learn that the other shower is heated. All that work to get cool ruined by a heated shower. The heated shower is next to the aft pool. The cold shower is next to the adult's pool (the forward pool). While wandering around I find there is a little kids slide. By little I mean pre-school and kindergarten. No self respecting seven year old would be caught dead on it. This slide is right outside the ship's children's center. Good grief, what's next, free ice cream? For those that don't get the joke, yes, there is free ice cream, just don't let your kids read the next sentence. The free ice cream is right inside where the buffet is, along the wall closest to the pool. Then I go back to my cabin, change and get ready for the sail away. I know the ship will have to back past the Crystal Symphony. The captain has already demonstrated his backing ability in PV. The question is which way he will turn. If front toward the ocean then I will not get a good view of the harbor. If front toward the land, then I'll get a great view. We back past the Crystal Symphony and we turn with the front toward the land - yes! I get a good picture of the Crystal Symphony and I get a good view of another smaller ship that is in the harbor. But then I get a surprise. There, waiting for us to clear the docking space is the Carnival Spirit. I've been on the Carnival Pride, but not the Carnival Spirit. Sometime in the future I would like to try the Carnival Spirit on its Mexican Riviera cruise to Acapulco. I get lots of good photos of the Carnival Spirit, and then we head out to sea. In about 63 hours we should be at the entrance to the Panama Canal. I spoke to my neighbors for what seemed like a few minutes, but in actuality probably lasted over an hour. I have a watch on my wrist, but I don't feel like I am under any time pressure, so I rarely look at it. I have spent the entire time since we left Acapulco (6 ½ hours at this point) sitting on my balcony working on this or talking to my neighbors. The only breaks I have taken are to take photos of the little kids slide and getting seconds on the free ice cream. I ate the first bowl sitting on the rear deck overlooking the wake. I finish off the second bowl back on my balcony. I worked hard to get here, and I am really enjoying this time out on the balcony just watching the sea approach us. With side and rear facing balconies I like to sit and watch the world go by, but with a forward facing balcony I don't get the feeling the world is going by. Rather I get the feeling the world is coming at me. But I mean that in a positive way. That light in front of me is not the headlight of an on coming train, but rather - oops, the sun is setting behind the ship and I can't see it from here. We are sailing east south east, so the sunsets are getting earlier. Well, I had to hustle up to deck thirteen and go to the rear of the ship. The sun already set, but I got a few good photos anyway. I work a little more on this, and I now I have to break away because I have an 8:00pm reservation at Teppanyaki. This restaurant is one of the extra cost restaurants ($20) and it is important to be on time, because everyone sits around the grill as all of their dinners are cooked at the same time, so being late means everyone has to wait, and I don't want to be the cause of that. I am seated at a table full of people from New York. I don't agree with everything they say about California, but I'm not here to get in an argument over regional difference or discuss politics. However, I do defend the Western Bagels bagel against a "true" New York bagel. The couple sitting next to me has a rear facing suite, which is just like mine, except that their balcony is about one fifth the size of my balcony. They are on their 18th cruise and have taken the New York to Canada cruise I will be taking this August. So I am able to get some inside information which will come in handy for making travel arrangements. I had the surf and turf and notice a difference between pricing of the extra cost meals on this cruise and my cruise on the NCL Star. On the Star Cagney's and Teppanyaki's prices differed based on what you ordered. In this case both are one price no mater what you order. The cooks put on a show while cooking, and are very entertaining. The food and company are both excellent. This time the meal is full price, so I have been getting lucky with my timing to get the half price meals. Actually that is good to know - I can eat late, no problem. I find another picture and decide to buy it. It seems all the photos are eight by tens and are all $20. I'm going to spend $100 on photos and I am not happy about that. As a result I have not posed for any photos at the port except for Cabo, and I didn't buy that photo. On the way to the photo lab I watch as a little girl poses for a photo with a moon background. I joke with the photographer that she can get the real thing outside. There is a full moon tonight. The moon was orange when it was just above the horizon and turned white when it got higher, leaving a while reflection on the sea, just like the backdrop. I heard the mother say something to the little girl, and it was not in English. I am not sure if the little girl speaks English, but she is following the visual signals the photographer is giving her. Then she does a quick glance back toward her Mom. I guess that look is the same in any language - even I can read it. She is checking with her mother to make sure she is doing everything right (she is). I notice that all the children on this ship seem to be from outside the United States. Even the family I met, that speaks English, is from Canada. I also walk past a couple with a young son and could hear that they were talking in a foreign language. Finally I noticed that about half the people who walked past me while I was waiting to be seated for dinner were talking in a foreign language. Still, I'm an American on a Norwegian ship registered in Nassau sailing in Mexican waters and headed to Columbia, so defining who is foreign is not as straight forward as it is back home. One other thing I have noted is laughter sounds the same in any language. This is true of the adults walking past me while I was waiting for dinner and the little girl who was having her photo taken. I recognize her as one of the three kids in the kid's center who where playing dodge ball with the three counselors. Well, I get back to my cabin around 10:00pm and notice another note about moving our clocks ahead one hour again. If this keeps up we are going to lose a full half day and I'm going to ask for a 4% refund of my cruise fare. Actually this is the last time we will have to change our clocks, as we will now be on Eastern Time, which is the time zone of our final destination of Miami. I am busy planning my next two days, as they are days at sea before we enter the Panama Canal. We are scheduled to arrive at 5:00am. I figure tomorrow will be a slow relaxing day, and the next day I'll be more active, and I want to get to sleep early so I can wake up early. That is the last thing I remember. When I awake again the TV is on the travel channel and it is 11:40pm. I thought about moving my watch ahead one hour and then decide against it. If I do, I also have to manually change the day and date. I'll just do it in the morning, and so I kill the TV and go to sleep. Day seven - day at sea I wake up before sunrise and realize the heavy curtains are still over the window. I move them back so I can see the sunrise. I set my watch ahead one hour and go back to sleep. As the sky starts to lighten I look out and I am a bit disappointed. There are clouds on the horizon, which means the sunrise will be later and the extra brightness will wash out most of the colors. However, there is a ray of hope. The sky is overcast which might block some of the extra light. There is a small space between lower clouds and the upper clouds, so a sunrise is still possible - late but still a sunrise. So I put on the ship supplied NCL-A bathrobe and go out on the balcony to wait. It is actually warmer than it was last night (and the sun has not come up yet). This is because we are getting further and further south. I'm glad it is February and not April, when it would be even warmer. I like it cool and it is over 80. The seas are still slight, but different. Instead of looking like a cheese grater the seas are smooth with rolling swells (of 1 ½ to 4 feet per the travel channel). Next I shower, put on fresh clothes and catch a movie on the TV. I've seen it plenty of times now, but I like it and today is a slow day. Breakfast consists of the grapes from my replenished fruit basket. Also, every afternoon the butler leaves some munchies for me, usually it is a gift from the hotel director. I have no idea what most of the munchies are that I am eating. However, I assume they are not trying to poison me, so I have tried everything and so far they are all good. Well, the door bell just rang and I assume it is the room stewardess. My biggest problem today will be to stay out of her way so she can do her job. However, it's not the room stewardess, but rather Ruth, the concierge checking to make sure everything is okay. Well, according to the travel channel, it is 82 outside. Both the air and water are 82 degrees. Perhaps if it is nice enough I'll swim through the canal. HA HA. Last night the gentleman sitting next to me mentioned how nice lunch is at Cagney's. It is one of the suite perks is to have breakfast and lunch at Cagney's. I've had breakfast there once. So today I'll give lunch a try. I've got my favorite cruise shirt on. I got it on my first cruise in Sitka. It shows a picture of a deer in the woods. The trees have several arrows stuck in them. The caption reads, "VEGETAIAN Indian world for LOUSY HUNTER". It is usually good for a few laughs. I have a very good pastrami sandwich, but no one comments on my shirt. On the way up I check out the Spinnaker Lounge. This is the second biggest lounge on the ship (after the Stardust Theater). It is forward on deck thirteen. It even has a few lounges with two backs, so a couple could sit facing each other as though they were sitting on two separate lounge chairs, except that this is one piece of furniture, and it is big enough for two people to lie down if they wanted to. In fact, I notice one person is doing exactly what I am doing, sitting in the lounge chair typing on a laptop computer, which is truly a laptop in this case. The only difference is I'm out in the fresh air. I expect the Spinnaker Lounge will be full while we go through the Panama Canal. While higher up, it is also further back than my balcony, so the view is more or less the same. However, I don't have to guard my front row view, and I will not lose it if I have to go to the bathroom, so I'll take my balcony over the Spinnaker Lounge any day for viewing the Panama Canal transit. Which gets me to thinking, is a suite worth the extra price? If you need or want the extra space, yes. If you are just after the extra perks, then I do not believe it is. Even though I have been enjoying the suite perks, they are not worth the extra $2,000 I am paying for this cabin over a balcony cabin. The only reason I am in this cabin is that it is the least expensive cabin with a forward facing balcony. On the way down the hall to Cagney's I saw my butler. He mentioned that he was thinking of taking some time to go into Cartagena. Great, he has been working hard and I would like to see him take a break. However, he only wants to go into the terminal area. So I say well, you can still tell everyone that you've been to South America (it will be a first for me). He says he has been to Chile. So I tell him, well, now you can tell everyone you have been to the north part of South America. Well, at least he smiled. While walking on deck thirteen (the deck just above the pool), on the way to lunch at Cagney's, I found it was quite windy. Back on my balcony I can feel the wind. I have to hold the papers down with something (where yesterday I did not). Today instead of a tailwind we have a headwind. Still, it is less windy on my forward facing balcony then on deck thirteen. I also found something new. The forward pool has a water fall. Today is the first day I have seen it in operation. At least I am fairly sure it is a water fall. I don't think deck thirteen suddenly sprung a leak right over the middle of the forward end of the forward pool. Other notes while I sit out on my balcony typing and staying out of the cabin steward's way: Some people wonder if it is safe to leave expensive things out in the open in the cabin. Most of the time the obvious, but unasked, question is can the cabin steward be trusted. As I am about to explain, these are two different questions, and the answers are also different. Can the cabin steward be trusted? In my experience the answer is yes. Of course you could run into one that cannot be, but then again, even police officers commit crimes. Since my third cruise I have always had my laptop with me. Some days I leave it out, and I still have it. Sometimes I forget and leave other valuables out, and I still have them too. However, when the cabin steward cleans the room, they ALL leave the door open. Anyone walking by could walk in a take something and not be noticed. I'll give you two very real examples. One day I returned to my cabin to get my camera. The cabin stewardess was cleaning the bathroom. My camera was on the desk in plain sight. I took my camera and left without the cabin stewardess even knowing I was there. Now I should mention that I am at the end of the hall, so nobody walks past my cabin on the way to their cabin, and therefore I am fairly safe in this regard. If I was in a side facing cabin I would not leave my camera out on the desk in plane view. The second example occurred while I was on the balcony. I was at the rail, either looking forward or talking with my neighbors. Both my balcony doors were open. My cabin stewardess popped her head out and said she was done cleaning my cabin. I didn't even know she was in the cabin. Now think about that. I'm 16 - 18 feet from an open door, and she was able to clean the cabin without my noticing. So, would I recommend leaving valuables where they can easily be seen by someone walking down the hall? No I would not. The reason is not because I don't trust the cabin steward, but rather because they ALL leave the door open while they are working in the room. Anyone walking by can look in. I know, because I look in the open doors of cabins out of curiosity, but that is because I like to see what the cabins look like, not because I am looking for something to take. Speaking to the butler reminded me of a few things I take for granted at home, that I have to be careful about when not at home. For example, many on this ship speak English as a second language. Even someone who sounds fluent might not understand a joke. For example a student was sweeping a room at a school where I used to volunteer. I asked her why and she was trying to keep things clean so there would be no ants. So I asked what about uncles. She said no, just ants. Her tone made it clear she did not understand the joke. The teacher then said, that she thought what I said was cute, but that was the disadvantage of speaking English as a second language (the student's first language was Spanish), that the student clearly did not understand the second meaning I had given the word ant (aunt). Mean while my nephews, who only speak English, understand my play on words every time. Watching a young child try to explain something when they realize that the key word they are using is being misinterpreted is fun. The other thing is that even at work there are others who cruise regularly. So I was a little surprised, being that we are on a cruise ship, especially after being to Cabo, to have someone ask me what a tender port is, after I tell them Grand Cayman is a tender port. Of course online this leads to a great play on words when someone wants to know how you can tell if it is tender port or not. The answer of course is, stick a fork in it (HA HA). Yesterday one of my neighbors saw a pod of dolphins. I'm sorry I missed it, but then again I already had a dolphin experience that will never be topped. I was on a sail boat. I was close enough to the water that I could stick my water proof camera in the water and got some underwater photos of the dolphins surfing our wake. That show lasted about twenty minutes. So while it is neat to see dolphins playing in the ship's wake, I'm afraid that I'll never top that experience, off the California coast, about 20 years ago. In an effort to avoid any unwanted viruses, NCL has become a little paranoid. Here is a quote from the Freestyle Daily (which appears as the tip of the day everyday): "Please wash your hands often, especially anytime after using the restrooms. Please sanitize your hands before any meals and at the gangway when returning to the ship. In addition, sanitize dispensers are located outside all restaurants and public areas. If you have a Gastrointestinal issue, please report to the Medical Center immediately. Advisory Notice: While ashore, drink only bottled water, be cautious while dining, wash your hands often and discourage hand shaking. Also, be diligent not to draw attention to your personal effects & handle cash discretely. Thank you." All good advice, but actively discouraging hand shaking will make people seem unfriendly. And don't wear anything on your hands that will be damaged by alcohol, because you are going to get your hands squirted when you return to the ship. This got me to thinking, which is how I normally get into trouble. Someone with some of that fake vomit could have a grand time. Of course the crew would not likely find it funny, but I wonder if anyone has tried to save a pool side lounge chair with it? Well, it's after 4:00pm. I slept in and spent a few hours enjoying my balcony while typing this. It is a little windier than before, but other wise the weather is perfect. Per the travel channel, we are traveling east south east at over 23 knots. The seas are slight, the air and water are 82 and the humidity is 78%. I've enjoyed a very relaxing day. So now I'll go inside and see what's happening on the Internet and perhaps watch the new DVD my butler brought me. Tomorrow I will spend some quality time in the pool and who knows what else. And as I write this I realize just how different I am approaching this cruise. Normally I don't spend this much time out on the balcony, but then again, as noted before, this is a special balcony. I just realize, on a normal cruise I would be packing about now. But on this cruise I still have a full week left and the best is yet to come. Well, unfortunately there were clouds on the horizon tonight, so going up on deck to watch the sunset was a waste of time. The best sunsets have a clear horizon and clouds well above the horizon. After that I shot a few baskets and then went back to the cabin and watched the DVD. If you are looking for a movie to rent, I highly suggest you steer clear of Benchwarmers. After the movie one of the channels has something about the Panama Canal. Apparently the ship is now showing an old NOVA program called The Building of the Panama Canal on a continuous basis. After catching the last half of the program I decide to go to dinner, and then the late show. The only restaurant left that I want to try is Blue Lagoon. There is only one couple in line and there are empty tables, so I figure things should go fairly smoothly. Well, Lets just say that there is some room for improvement here. There is a podium where you wait for the host or hostess to seat you. There is just one problem; there is no host or hostess. The couple in front of me gives up and now I am first in line. I wonder around and look as conspicuous as possible. After several minutes one of the waitresses comes over and seats me and another couple that showed up after I did. The food was average for a cafe. For example, the hamburger was just okay, while the hamburger in the Tex-Mex restaurant next door was very good. At any rate, after dinner I catch the late show, which is a comedy routine with Joe Yanetty. If you get a chance to see him, go. I, and the rest of the audience, laughed the entire time he was on stage. Back in the cabin I find an elephant on my bed. Last night it was a snake. Well, it is 11:00pm, the wind is stronger and thus the waves are bigger (moderate - 4 to 7 ½ feet). I can feel the ship swaying back and forth (right to left). This is a side to side motion known as roll, and has nothing to do with being forward or aft. The least amount of side to side motion is felt if you are close to the water line and near the center line of the ship (above the keel). In both the show on deck seven and in my cabin on deck nine I can feel the side to side motion, but it is not bad. It is more like a gentle rocking motion. There are only two other DVDs that I am interested in, and neither is available right now. So I'll see what is on the TV, and if nothing interesting, I'll read a little and get some sleep. Good night. Day eight - day at sea Well, I am up in time for sunrise, but there are clouds on the horizon again, and this morning's sunrise was hardly worth the effort. I check out the laundry prices and quickly realize that for one load of laundry they want to charge a month's worth of dry cleaning. So I decide to do laundry, only to find out that I am not the only one with that idea. Okay, if worse comes to worse I have back up plans (at worst I will have to pay $30 for one load of laundry). So I'll kill a little time and catch up with my review and fill out the application for the BAGS program (which allows me to check my airline luggage on the ship for $15 per person), then I'll check the laundry room again (it would help if all three washing machines in the room worked). The Freestyle Daily doesn't contain the usual details that help plan a day. It is four pages, but one page is mostly ads for other ways you can run up your ship board account. The first page is good. The second page is all ads. The third and fourth pages are lists of what is available when. Usually the first and second page contains details while the third and fourth pages list what is available when. I also note that they don't have a photograph of the ship. It's not the Pride of Hawaii, and it will look different after if comes out of dry dock. So the official ship photo will be taken during the canal crossing. In a few minor ways this cruise feels as though it was put together at the last moment. Nonetheless, the Hawaiian theme interior, lack of details in the Freestyle Daily, the ship supplied bathrobes say NCL America on it, the temporary ship photo and the small casino are not really big deals to me (I don't even gamble). I am having a good time; I relaxed a lot yesterday, and have enjoyed the ports (even Acapulco). I am looking forward to the rest of the cruise, especially tomorrow. Well the laundry line is getting bigger. If we were not going to through the Panama Canal tomorrow I would just stay up to 1:00am and do it then. However, it's not worth $30 to worry about it. I put the laundry in the bag and just when I am going to call the butler to find out where to take it he arrives at the door (extra points for good timing). He takes the bag and says he'll bring it back tomorrow. I check regular service which is two days if in by 9:00am (it is after 11:00am). Express service (one day service) is an extra 50%. Is this another suite perk? Well, I'll turn in my BAGS application, and then do a little swimming. Both pools are salt water today. The ship is swaying right to left still. This is creating an interesting condition in the aft main pool, which has a wider shelf because of the cutouts for the waterslide. The sides are also "V" shaped, so if you swim in the right place in the pool, you can swim against the current. After swimming I decide to walk around a bit. I find the golf cage empty. I don't think I've hit a golf ball since college. I seem to have lost my touch. No matter how hard I hit the ball, it only goes about 15 feet and then stops dead. So I decide to grab lunch at the buffet and bring it to the balcony to eat it. We seem to have picked up some escorts. There are some black and white birds gliding in front of the ship. I am not sure what kind of bird they are (no, they're not penguins - we are too far north for that) but they look like they are just floating in the air in front of the ship, which means of course that they are actually gliding forward at 23 knots. They seem to be well fed because a lot of what they ate is coming back down all over the front of the ship. Taking note of this, I make sure to stay under the overhang. I watch Mission Impossible for a while (I'm not sure which one) and when the room stewardess comes I go outside and read. Then I decide to walk around the ship and see what is up (hopefully not the birds - I'm not taking my hat). But before I go I call the concierge to make reservations at Cagney's for 8:45pm (which gives me time to catch the early show). Well, the good news is that what was not up were the birds. Unfortunately neither was the ice carving demonstration, which has been moved to tomorrow. I'll be on my balcony until we get dropped into the Caribbean. Nonetheless, the thing I am really interested in seeing is what they do with the ice carvings after they melt. So, since my prime ice carving viewing spot is useless, I decide to just walk around. This includes a walk to the self service ice cream which I eat while looking out over the wake. Then I walk back toward my cabin and I notice some strange splashes in the water. Apparently we are traveling through a pod of small dolphins. Finally back on my balcony I notice everyone looking and pointing. At what, all I see is ocean? Oops, we are traveling through another pod of dolphins. Pretty neat, but at 23 knots it does not last long. Then I spend some time talking to my neighbors, and sharing a few pictures from my June 2007 cruise on the Freedom of the Seas. Again time flies by. What seems like just a few minutes is at least an hour and a half. I guess I should explain that the divider between the forward facing balconies is not full height the entire length of the balcony as they are on the side and rear facing balconies. At the most forward part of the balcony divider is only about three feet high, so it is easy to talk to your neighbors, and even share photographs. I decide to change for the show and dinner (from shorts to jeans, thanks to Freestyle I don't need or have a suit with me - my dress clothes are slacks and a Hawaiian shirt). Then I update this and get everything ready for tomorrow. I backup everything (photos, this review and my spreadsheet with all the expenses - there is no interactive TV for checking the onboard account, though you can get a printout from guest relations) onto a portable hard drive that I take with me for this purpose. Then I clear all my photo memory cards. All three sets of my camera batteries will be fully charged by tomorrow, I check up on a few things on the Internet and finally I set a wake up call for early tomorrow morning. Tomorrow is the big day and I don't want to miss a thing. The entertainment tonight is Cat's Pajamas. This is an A Cappella group of four men. I would say that their singing was average, but the sound effects they create are fantastic. There is an announcement at the beginning that all the sounds we hear are being made by their mouths, there is no sound track, no orchestra and no CD playing in the background. And as soon as I hear their first song I don't believe that there is no sound tract or orchestra playing in the background. The two guys responsible for the sound effects are amazing. Then I go to Cagney's for the 14 oz rib eye steak. They recognize me from my last visit, and service is even better this time (there was nothing wrong the first time - it's just better this time). Rib eye is a better cut of meat than porterhouse, and it shows. The steak was very good. Again it is half price. Okay, I can catch the early show and eat later for half price - no problem. I walk back to my cabin and the room stewardess has not turned down my bed yet (I'm not sure what this entails, since the same side is facing up before and after she turns it down) but what I really want is tomorrow's Freestyle Daily. It will have more information about tomorrow's schedule. I even made sure I walked past her and said hello when I went to the show so she would know I was gone (I've been training myself to always go to starboard side because that is the side that goes all the way through on the public decks - and she is responsible for the port side forward cabins). She shows up right behind me, so I go out to the balcony and look out at the moon's glow on the sea. Very mesmerizing (in fact, I even consider sleeping outside on the balcony tonight). All I feel is a gentle breeze on my face. The room stewardess even washed my lounge chair cushions, so I'll have something clean to sit on tomorrow (this was not a request I made - they were dirty and she took it upon herself to clean the cushions). The travel channel says the wind is back down to nine knots, however, the seas are still moderate. We are now headed east north east at 22 knots, which explains the gentle breeze, since the wind coming from the south west is now a tail wind. The ship is still rolling side to side. By lining up the railing with the horizon (during the day - I can't see the horizon at night) I can tell the ship is also pitching up and down, but I can't feel the pitching movement. According to the Freestyle Daily we will pick up the pilot at 6:00am. Not really a big surprise, since I have been tracking our progress over the last two days and I figured that we were about one hour behind. Okay, I reset my wake up call so I get an extra hour of sleep. We pass under the bridge of the Americas at 6:15am (I hope the pilot remembers to duck). We will enter the Miraflores Locks around 8:30am, the Pedro Miguel Locks around 10:20am, we should enter the Gatun Locks around 2:40pm and we should clear the Gatun Locks around 5:00pm (I knew I would end up missing the ice carving demonstration). We will pass Gamboa around noon (I'm happy to hear he passed this time). Well, it's almost 11:00pm and I am getting up early tomorrow, so good night. Day nine - the Panama Canal I wake up at 5:00am. I look out the window, which doesn't even have the sheer curtain drawn (I turned out all the lights and opened all the curtains) and I notice the running lights. Wait a minute; I haven't seen running lights from my cabin before. Those are city lights. We are here! Well almost, the lights are in the distance, but after two and one half days of nothing but ocean (okay, plus a few dolphins and birds) we are definitely near land. We are not scheduled to do anything until 6:00am and I still have a wake up call scheduled, so I go back to sleep. In a few minutes the phone rings. How do you answer a phone when you know it's a wake up call? I put the camera outside so it can warm up (I keep my cabin as cold as possible and until the camera warms up, water will condense on the lens and ruin the shot). I shower and dress, then prop my door open (so the family from Canada I invited to join me can come right in). Most likely I will not hear the door bell (yes, I have a door bell) while on the balcony. I told them to come right in, so hopefully they will not be shy. It's 5:50am. In ten more minutes the pilot boat should bring the pilots and guest lecturer. There is a speaker on the balcony, but I've never heard it, so most likely I have to get the sound off of channel 23, which is the forward view camera channel. I'm on a forward facing balcony, what do I need with a forward view TV channel? Besides, the music on channel 23 is not as good as the music on the travel channel. Nonetheless, I am stuck with what they offer. So I switch from the travel channel to the forward view channel. Hey, I can see my neighbor on TV. I tell her and everyone watching this channel at 6:30am gets a big wave from my neighbor. Meanwhile we should have passed under the Bridge of the Americas fifteen minutes ago and we haven't yet. Hey, I'm up at 5:00am, I want to see the locks, but we are dead in the water, along with a dozen other ships. Nonetheless, I'm not worried, I know the cruise lines pay a premium to get a preferred transit time. I am looking forward to the captain weaving between all these ships like the cars in the commercials going through the cones. LET'S GET GOING! Give me a paddle, I'll help. Finally around 7:00am I notice our view is starting to change. WERE MOVING! Okay, we are moving, but not very fast. Where is that paddle? The guest lecturer starts to speak and guess what; he is not as loud as the music. Now I have to increase the volume so I can hear him, which is no big deal. But every time he stops talking that awful music comes on, and now I have it at close to full volume. Hopefully nobody will complain, because I want to hear the guest lecturer. Turns out I'm not the only one who has the TV volume turned way up, so I guess we are all in the same boat - literally. At any rate we are approaching the Bridge of the Americas. Nice, but we've already passed under a bridge on this ship. We went under the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro, spun in the turning basin, and then passed under the bridge on the way out. Neat. Where are the locks, and step on it, we're late. As far forward as I can see there is nothing but channel. Where is the lock? I see a cargo ship in front of us, but that ship is no higher than we are. Where is the lock?? The ship in front of us isn't moving very fast, hopefully we will pass it. Wait a minute that ship is next to something. It's getting ready to enter the Miraflores Lock. At last, it will soon be our turn. Oops, sooner than I think. In a strange twist of rules, day time transits through the Gaillard Cut are one way. Night time transits are two way. I guess as long as the two captains cannot see how close they are when they pass each other it is okay, when they can it is not. So what does this mean, it means we get to enter the other side of the Miraflores Lock and while we are tying up to the mules (the little trains that keep the ship centered in the lock - the ship moves through under its own power) we can watch the other ship. Neat! About this time I realize all work aboard the ship has likely stopped, because there must be one hundred crew members on the deck in front of us. Apparently the passengers and captain are not the only ones who are looking forward to this portion of the cruise. Soon the gates behind the other ship begin to close. This is when I notice it. Did someone plan this? The other ship belongs to Yang Ming. Its name is YM Los Angeles and it is registered in Panama. Gee, we left from Los Angeles and we are now in Panama. Slowly the other ship starts to rise. The neat thing is I am already higher above the water than the top of the second lock, but just barely. I can see everything. This is why I paid extra for this cabin. I don't know who is fighting for what view in the Spinnaker Lounge, or along the other observation spots along the ship, but I've got a front row seat and I don't have to fight for it. The family I invited to join me hasn't shown up yet. They don't know what they are missing. This is great. Now we are starting to move forward and the ship is going to tip forward if any more crew shows up on the bow. I can imagine the engineer is busy transferring a few tons of fuel to the rear tank to keep the ship level. We move very slowly, but finally we stop. About this time the ship next to us starts moving forward. We are all busy waiving. And then the sound of ears popping all over the ship signals that we have started to rise. Soon we are in the rarefied air 28 feet above sea level. Okay, nobody's ear's popped, the air is not noticeably thinner and each lock does not raise us the same amount. But since I was too busy taking pictures (over 760) to take notes, I don't remember how much each lock raises us, so I'll just use the average of 28.33 (or just 28, because it is easier to type) feet each. As we start to move forward I notice that there must be a visitor center across the way, and we have drawn a crowd. Looks like we will be the only passenger ship going through the canal today and since passengers wave more than cargo containers, we seem to have drawn a big crowd. Well, the crew having seen it once, have now seen it all, and most head back to work. I can't describe how neat this is to me. Yes I know, we are in a big bathtub and by filling it with water (I hope the people in the lower decks got everything off the floor) the ship rises. Big deal. But it is special, and all I can say is WOW! The process repeats itself and soon we leave the Miraflores Locks headed for the Pedro Miguel Locks. About halfway there the family from Canada that I met while hiding from all the taxi drivers in Acapulco shows up. Good. Most of the people with forward facing balconies, realizing what a good thing we have, have invited people to join them. One couple has a couple from the Garden Villa visiting them. Someone paying $25,000 a week for their cabin has joined us for this portion of the trip. Does that tell you how special these balconies are? The family from Canada is a couple with three children, two boys and a girl (the girl is the youngest). The two youngest look like fifth and sixth graders, while the oldest looks like he is in high school. They are staying in inside cabins, and I hope this opportunity to experience a fantastic front row seat to the eighth wonder of the world makes their trip just a little more special. They tell me about what they have seen so far. However, they could not hear the speaker and stand at the rail edge. So they had to choose one or the other. Truth is, I can't stand at the rail and hear the speaker (over the TV) either. The difference is I can see just fine while standing closer to the door so I can hear the speaker, and I haven't missed a thing. The only disadvantage of this cabin is I cannot look down along the side. I am in an AC penthouse cabin. For double the money I could have gotten an AA owner's suite, which has both a forward facing balcony and a side facing balcony. Okay, for $7000 less, I'll live. For $4,000 I can get a side facing balcony and do this again, and still be $3,000 ahead. My guests are taking it all in. They watch as the YM Los Angeles begins to rise. Then we begin to rise and they ooh and awe as much as I did in the prior lock. Soon we pass under the Centennial Bridge (which actually is a very good looking bridge, at least from below) and enter the Gaillard Cut. We look in amazement as we pass through a mountain range, 85 feet above sea level, in a ship that spends most of its time at sea level. Finally we reach Gatun Lake. My new friends decide to take a dip in the pool, while I am not moving from this balcony - not even for BBQ chicken. I invite them back for the trip through the Gatun Locks. Hopefully they will return. I get the feeling they will. The guest lecturer has pointed out two crocodiles along the banks. They all would really like to see one, but by the time he points out the reptiles, they are behind us, and one thing I cannot do from this balcony is look backwards. Finally he points one out before we get to it (about two minutes after the family left) and I get a few good pictures. I'll show my new friends when they return. Sailing through Lake Gatun is nothing special, except we do it at half speed and every few minutes another ship passes us on the port side. After a couple of hours I note a gathering of ships. We will soon be entering the Gatun Locks. And just as we do the family returns. Good, this means they enjoyed the view earlier. I tell them I have a surprise for them and show them a photo of the crocodile. They at least saw it themselves. The girl needs some photos for of the cruise for a class project. I have asked several times if she would like me to burn a CD with some of the photos I have taken (over 1500 so far) but she has never responded. Finally Mom says that she would, but she is too shy to say so. Okay, now I have a project for the day at sea between Cartagena and Grand Cayman. The Gatun locks are three in a row and it takes about two and one half hours to transit. I figure we could save a lot of time if they just open all the gates and we'll go down just like the log ride at Magic Mountain. However, for some reason the captain does not seem too interested in my suggestion. I notice the wife and younger boy have both found that the lounge chairs in the shade under the overhang are very comfortable. I comment to the husband that I was thinking of sleeping out there last night myself. I comment that February is definitely the right time to do this. By April it would be stifling hot and the sun would be directly overhead (we are less than 10 degrees north of the equator). As it is, since we are headed northwest (yes, we go from west to east by traveling northwest) the sun is behind the ship most of the time. The husband, the older boy and I are the most active as we descend through the locks. Okay, granted two of the three others are napping. The girl is taking it all in also, but at a slower pace. Mom does wake up in time to see us descend through the final lock. While they are here the butler brings back my laundry (t-shirts on hangers?) and his usual edible gifts - chocolates this time. I offer the chocolates to my new friends. Meanwhile, unknown to me, the butler sees I have guests and comes back with seconds. Apparently the girl, like me, is a chocoholic. Somehow all eight pieces disappear. The guest lecturer mentions that the average toll paid to cross the canal is around $40,000 to $45,000. It is based on gross tonnage, which is a space rating, not a weight rating. Also only enclosed areas are counted. Therefore, all that space occupied by the containers stacked four high above the deck of a container ship do not count. Only the enclosed area does. The guest lecturer says the old record holder was the NCL Pearl at over $300,000. However, we just set the new record, at $313,800 plus some change. At 92,000 tons this may be as big as it gets until 2014, when the new bigger locks will be completed. After we pass through the locks the family leaves to make a dinner appointment. Two minutes later another crocodile sighting. Meanwhile my neighbors offer me some of their Champagne. We are celebrating making it across Central America and tonight is Oscar night. Okay, that is as good an excuse as any to drink. I have a glass and we toast a fine cruise so far. Perhaps that was a mistake. I go inside. I have been standing on my feet in the warm sun for ten straight hours. Either my feet will never speak to me again or they are going to speaking to me all night. I am not sure which. I lie down for a while and finally decide to go to the buffet for dinner. There is no way I will survive a sit down dinner. I will consider it a success if nobody finds me asleep in my dinner plate. I actually plan my little outing. First down to deck seven to see if there are any new photographs, then up to deck twelve for dinner, and then back down to deck seven for some Panama Canal shirts (which were on display, but not available until today). Then back to the cabin. Down to deck seven which just happens to be the upper level of the Stardust Theater. I don't care what the entertainment is. Unless they are having a BBQ cooking demonstration, I'm too tired to attend. Since it is so nice outside, I decide to go outside to walk back to mid ship. Wow, what happened? Did a hurricane suddenly form while I was walking down two flights of stairs? I'm not sure what the sea conditions are, but it is something worse than "moderate." And the wind has picked up too. No new photos. But either there is something magical about deck nine, or it moves side to side less than deck seven (and that should not be the case). There are no new pictures, so I go up to deck twelve where the buffet is. I manage to eat dinner without falling asleep in the dinner plate. Back down to deck seven for some Panama Canal t-shirts. Gee, this is what an earthquake feels like (and being from California I know what an earthquake feels like). All the wind chimes are going, and the AC is not on that strong. I get my shirts and head back outside for the walk forward. I may not be able to see much, but I can hear (and feel) that things are getting worse. I decide to check out the travel channel. The seas are rough (no kidding). The waves are 7 ½ to 12 feet. It never occurred to me to tell the family from Canada that I have ginger tablets (helpful for seasickness). Even though I know their cabin number, it is late and I don't want to chance waking them. I hope they make it through the night. Meanwhile every time one of those twelve footers hit's the side of the ship there is a loud thud and the entire ship shakes. I get sea sick easily but I have been typing this for three hours since I ate and it is not bothering me. But I pity the people in the lower ocean view cabins, I don't think they will get much sleep tonight (those thuds must be much louder in the lower cabins). Well, I am tired, but I wanted to write this while it was fresh in my mind. It has been a great day. Rarely is one day so important in a cruise itinerary, but this day was special the moment I booked the cruise. Everything has been planned around this day, starting with cabin location. It has been a fantastic day. Where would I start with the thank yous? Thank you Theodore Roosevelt (the President responsible for the building of the Panama Canal). Thank you NCL. Thank you my neighbors (I have truly enjoyed hanging out on the balcony with them). And a thank you to my new friends. They saved me from the Acapulco taxi drivers and it has been a great joy to share my balcony with them. One cute note and then I'm going to bed. My cabin steward has been servicing my cabin late, which is fine with me. The cabin is clean and I have ice. Basically that is all I really need. She explains that she has several elderly people in the cabins she is responsible for, and elderly people tend to go to sleep early, so she has been servicing their cabins first. I'm not as elderly (I smile inside). Also, she heard my guest taking when then left. The kids were commenting on what a nice cabin I have (and now I am smiling on outside too). I'm glad that I was able to make someone's vacation a little more special. Good night. Well, night - I'm not sure how good it is going to be. Day 10 - Cartagena Well this is now officially my longest review. The previous record was 19-20 pages from the eight night Mexican Rivera cruise on the NCL Star. I wake up to a gentle rocking. Well, maybe not so gentle. I check the travel channel and nothing has changed. There is still a 25 knot wind and the seas are still rough. And, since it is also still dark, I go back to sleep. As tired as I was last night, I was motivated, and keep writing this review until 1:00am. It's only 5:00am and I would like to get more than four hours of sleep. Of course I am sure there are people on this ship right now who wish they could get four minutes of sleep. If this keeps up we are going to miss Grand Cayman. The travel channel says sunrise is at 7:37am. But that is what it said yesterday and we are heading east, which means the sun will rise sooner. Well, now it's 7:00am and I am fully awake, and so is the sun. No big deal, I knew I was too tired to get up for any sunrise photos. Well, the wind and seas are the same, but it's light outside. Let's see what it looks like. I know a rouge wave can reach three times the normal wave height. Twelve times three is 36. Even though I am sure the bow is higher than that, I'll keep the bulkhead door closed, just in case. Our heading is 80 degrees and we are going about 20 knots. The wind is coming from 45 degrees at 25 knots. So, standing out at the rail I am basically being blasted by a 40 knot headwind. It's not that comfortable. However, back up a bit and it's not that bad. Basically once the wind gets close enough to the cabin walls it has nowhere to go. As a result the wind is just pushing against the air, and it is more like a gentle breeze. So you don't have to worry about the wind in a forward facing balcony. Because of all the horror stories about Columbia, I have decided to take one of the ship's sponsored tours in Cartagena. When I first found out we were going here I wondered if it was safe. I was told it is, as long as you stay in a group. Don't go off by yourself. I heard bits and pieces of this same advice while channel surfing on the ship's TV. Others on this ship warned me of how aggressive the street vendors can be, and also how many there are. So I am a little concerned as we head out. Even the tour guide warns us, if you take a picture of anybody they will expect you to pay them. The original notice said that we would meet on the dock. Two or three days ago I was handed a slip of paper saying that our meeting place had been changed to the Stardust Theater. What! I had my heart set on meeting on the pier. I WANT A FREE CRUISE! As we pull into what is a very large harbor I notice dozens of buses lined up along one of the piers. I know which pier we are docking at. It is an industrial pier, servicing container ships. When I get to the Stardust Theater I notice it is almost full. What is going on, and where does the tour meet? I find a crew member who tells me I am in the right place. Apparently I am not the only one on this tour. While waiting I start talking with the crew member. Since I know she sleeps below the water line I asked her about the sound of the waves crashing against the hull. Apparently it was not a problem for her, nor was the movement of the ship. That lack of movement does not surprise me, as she sleeps closer to the water line than I do. At any rate I mention one of the favorite cruise director jokes when ship is rocking back and forth. It is easy to tell the drunks, because they are the ones walking in a straight line. She laughs - she hasn't heard that one yet. Most of those buses I noticed by the pier are for the tour I am on. I get assigned to a bus and off we go. Even as the bus is backing to park at the first stop the street vendors are all over us. But a simple no thank you and they leave me alone. There are a lot of street vendors, but I don't feel pressured. As we approach the entry gate there is someone there with a three towed sloth. I remembered from one of the Discovery Channel programs that a three towed sloth is okay, however, the two towed ones are not so friendly. For $5 he takes a few pictures of me with my camera. At the next stop more street vendors. And again, they are obviously trying to sell something, but they are showing respect. The third stop is a bunch of shops. Each proprietor is standing by the door. I am asked to come into each shop. If I do, I am free to walk around without any sales pressure. If I don't come in, I am not bothered. I am after two things, key chains for my friend's children's key chain collection and coffee for my sister and brother-in-law. The coffee is of course easy to find. Believe it or not, the key chains are not. When done I am standing outside one of the shops waiting for our bus. One of the shop owners offers me a chair. I don't know about anyone else's experience in Cartagena, but not only are these people respectful, they are down right friendly. I feel perfectly safe. So why all the horror stories? At the next stop I ask the tour guide about the stories and mention how friendly the people seem. The reason for so many street vendors is the government does not offer any assistance. The people realize that when tourists come it benefits everybody. It seems they want to attract tourist and realize the best way to do this is to be friendly. They have won me over. If I come here again I might just go out on my own. I feel as safe here as I do in Miami. Well, after four hours in the heat and humidity we return to the ship. I note that some touchup painting is being done to the side of the ship, so I guess we hit the side of the canal a few times. I see the butler has brought one of the two DVDs I am interested in. Tomorrow is a day at sea. I'm going to work on a CD for the little girl and if I get tired of that, I'll watch the DVD. In the meantime I'm tired, so I lay down for a while. Then I grab lunch at the aft buffet. The chicken taste like - chicken. But the teriyaki pork tastes great, so I go back for seconds on that. Then back to the cabin for a nap. I'm up in time for the sail away. This harbor is huge. It might be as big as San Francisco Bay. And just as soon as we exit the harbor, oh boy the wind hits. We are in for another fun night. I have time before the show to see the "official" ship photograph (I get one free because I bought an album). There are some goods ones there. I get an 8 x 10 that I like for free, and purchase two 5 x 7s, which are only $5 each. Two 5x7 photos is 70 square inches. One 8x10 photo is 80 square inches. So why are two 5x7s only $10 and one 8x10 is $20? On the way down I notice that the starboard of deck seven is closed due to high winds. Tonight's show is another comedy routine. This time the comedian specializes in "vocal manipulation" (in other words, a ventriloquist). He is average, and to be honest, laughter might be the best medicine, but I miss the production shows. Per the Freestyle Daily, tomorrow is another comedy routine. At least they could provide a little variety by offering a BBQ chicken cooking demonstration. After the show I decide to check out the smaller main restaurant. When I get there, there is a line, so I go to the gift shop to see if there is anything new. No there isn't, so I head back to the restaurant (I figured the line was from all the people who, like me, just got out of the show). On the way I see the captain and ask if we will be able to stop in Grand Cayman. He says of course, why not? I respond, because usually when it is this windy the ships don't stop there (oops - someone who is familiar with that port). The captain then says that Grand Cayman is two days away and we will see what the weather is like tomorrow. Okay, fair enough. Sure enough when I arrive at Alizar the second time there is no line. It is my understanding that the smaller restaurant is supposed to have a lighter menu, but if seems to weigh the same as the menu in the Grand Pacific Restaurant. At any rate the food is very good. While waiting for my dinner I hear the two English couples next to me talking (by English I mean British - not American English) and it suddenly dawns on me why so many people from Europe might be on this cruise. They are taking a month long cruise, which not only takes them through the eighth wonder of the world, but also transports them back home (or at least pretty close). Not a bad deal if you ask me. So far I have only repeated one restaurant, and that is Cagney's. It was always my intention to eat at Cagney's at least twice. But I have pretty much run out of restaurants that I want to try. So I'll be repeating others. Day 11 - day at sea Well, this was not your typical day at sea. The cruise director put together a behind the scenes slide show that was very interesting. We were shown a lot of the areas that are off limits to the passengers. At the end we were given a fact sheet. The ship holds 713,000 gallons of fuel. At full speed the ship burns about one gallon per second. And while all of this was going on we were in the middle of conducting a rescue. There was a small sailboat that had lost electrical power and propulsion. And there was some sort of medical emergency on board the sail boat. The captain was supposed to provide more information after the rescue, so I have had the TV on channel 23 all day. I like the music on channel 22 better, but the ship's announcements can only be heard in the public areas or on channel 23 (the bow camera channel - in other words the same view I have out my window). So my choices were to either leave the front door open or listen to channel 23. I felt listening to channel 23 was the lesser of the two evils. However, we left the sailboat about eight hours ago and I haven't heard an update. I don't know what the medical emergency was, and since most of this went on while I was watching the behind the scenes slide show, I missed most of what happened. However, I was able to get some pictures and the talk among the passengers is the sailboat had to be abandoned. So I guess we have some additional passengers on board. Hopefully we will get some more information later. We are traveling a little faster to make up for lost time, but should still arrive on time. The wind has died down, so hopefully we will get to visit Grand Cayman (which is a tender port). For the rest of the morning I worked on putting together the CD for the girl from Canada. It actually took less time than I thought it would and I decided to go out for lunch. That is when I ran into the mother and her daughter. When I asked where the guys were she said that she did not know. I had lunch with them and we talked for a while. The guys showed up eventually and I talked longer with the husband. What seemed like an hour was actually four hours. How come that never happens at work? Then they went swimming and I finished making the CDs. It took three CDs to hold all the photos I am giving them. I am giving them about 600 photos; including photos of what they are doing tomorrow (they are going to Stingray City, so I gave them photos from my visit there last June). While 600 photos might sound like a lot, it is actually only about half of the total number of pictures I have taken. Okay, now that I am done I need to get the photos to them. I call their room, but there is no answer. It is a little late to be out on deck, but if they are not in their room then where else can they be. As I walk out on the deck thirteen I see it is just about empty. Okay, lets see, they like bridge, ping-pong, golf and basketball (they also like hockey, but there isn't a hockey rink within 200 miles of us right now). Sure enough I find the guys on the basketball court. We talk some more and he invites me to the show and dinner. Great, how do we meet up? My cabin is two decks above the Stardust Theater, they will stop by. Okay, I'll work on this. The phone rings. They want to go to Teppanyaki. Yikes! That requires reservations. I call the concierge and she comes through with reservation for six at 9:30. The show is another comedy routine with Rich Purpura, who is very good. While the cruise director did acknowledge the excitement of this morning, he did not provide an update. However, he did make a joke about there being one more person in line at the buffet, so I guess we did pick up some passengers. After the show we have an hour to kill before dinner. The gals and the oldest boy go up to the Spinnaker Lounge to see Cat's Pajamas purrr-fect encore. The lounge is filled to overflowing and the husband, the youngest boy and I go down to my cabin to relax until dinner. We turned out to be the only ones booked for the 9:30 dinner show. Apparently the husband had been given bad information by his friends. Most of the extra cost restaurants are half price after 8:30pm, but not Teppanyaki. Fortunately two of his children were half price. It was a special treat for the kids, who had never seen this kind of dinner entertainment. The food was good and we all enjoyed ourselves. Day 12 - Grand Cayman We are due in Grand Cayman at 8:00am. However, sometime between 7:00 and 7:30am when I look out the window I realize we are already here. And we are not the first one to arrive. The Carnival Inspiration is already here. It seems each of the biggest cruise lines is sending two representatives to Grand Cayman today. Joining us is the Norwegian Jewel. Joining the Carnival Inspiration is the Carnival Liberty. And from Royal Caribbean we are joined by the Liberty of the Seas and the Radiance of the Seas. I'm guessing about 15,000 passengers. My all time favorite shore excursion is Stingray City, which I have done twice. I wanted to try an independent firm that I have heard good things about. However, while I knew what ship time we were schedule to arrive and depart at, I could not find out what time zone the ship would be on. Without this critical information I was unwilling to book an independent. Therefore, I decided to try something new. So I booked snuba through the ship. Snuba is half way between snorkeling and scuba. You are breathing compressed air from a tank, but the tank floats on the surface on a raft. There is a 20 foot airline with a regulator at the end for swimmer. It was fun and I'm glad I did it. The tour group was made up of passengers from both NCL and Royal Caribbean. The tour guides are all members of PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors). Each guide takes four people. I was added to a family of three. There are two people to a tank. I was with Mom. Apparently Mom didn't feel comfortable with the set up and never dived below the water surface. I had no problem except that my throat was dry because of the dry air I was breathing and I ended up having to tow Mom around (which was no big deal). I took my water proof camera with me and the guide took some pictures of me with my camera. They came out great. Someone else had a water proof camera case for his expensive camera. Unfortunately it leaked. So he lost a $350 camera. I looked into a water proof case. The problem is they cost as much as my water proof camera, and if you change cameras you have to get a new case. Also, of course the case is bigger than the camera. My water proof camera cannot go as deep as a camera with a special case, but I am not planning on going deeper than 15 feet anyway. The water proof camera cost the same as the case, is smaller and provides me with a back up camera just in case. While waiting in the terminal area for the shore excursion I saw the assistant cruise director. I asked about the sailboat. He said that there was only one person on the boat and that he had an arm injury. There is a major difference between Grand Cayman and the other four ports we visited. Not only does everyone speak English, but their standard of living is on par with the USA or Canada. There are no street vendors, the shop owners are not standing outside their shop inviting or coercing you into their store and there is no gauntlet of taxi drivers offering you a ride (either in their taxi or on the madam's bed). Back on the ship I was tried, as it was hot and humid in Grand Cayman. I relaxed outside and got lots of good photos of the other ships in the harbor. As I am laying in the shade waiting for the ships to move so I can get some pictures from different angles, I reflect on the fact that I just made it through an entire cruise without hearing the old tour guide joke that goes, if you liked the tour my name is Adam and the driver is Bob. If you didn't like the tour my name is Charles and the driver is David. I'll have to book a cruise to Mexico and book a ship sponsored shore excursion. I don't think I can make it through two cruises without hearing that old classic. Once under way the wind seemed to pick up (it was calm while we were in Grand Cayman) and I relaxed prior to the show. The show is billed as, "Showtime: Broadway All starts - some Enchanted Evening". Okay, at last a production show. What a disappointment. First of all it was not a production show. There was one pianist and six singers. Now I am not a qualified music critic, but I thought the pianist could use a lot more practice and singers were average. And the best of the bunch did the least amount of singing. Another problem was the setting. Two of the singers did one of the songs from Oklahoma. Oklahoma can be done one of two ways, either as a song to sing, or with a western theme. I've seen it done well both ways. So imagine watching two people, one in a tux and the other in a formal dress pretending that they were wearing the same thing a cowboy and cowgirl would be wearing. It just didn't work. After the show there was a chance for some of the behind the scenes crew to get on stage and receive a cheer. They were introduced by the person in charge of payroll on the ship and the cruise director singing. Both of whom I thought were better than five of the six singers we had just listened to. After the show I went to Cagney's for dinner. The waiter, who was very good, recognized me from the last time I was there. However, the rest of the staff was off their game tonight. As I was being seated, three waiters were trying to figure who would be the waiter at the table they had all just descended upon. I ordered three sides and requested that my steak be cooked medium. Well I got three sides, but one of them was not the right one. I ate it anyway. The waiter somehow caught on to the error and he gave me the correct third side that I ordered, after I had already finished the wrong one. Meanwhile the steak I received was fine on the outside and raw in the middle. The waiter took it back (I didn't have to send it back) and returned later with the same piece with the same problem and he took it back again. A little later the manager brought out one that was cooked properly. So now they think the sides have gotten cold and bring me three new sides. Well, I had already eaten the sides, so now I had seven sides. And the waiter was offering to bring me another steak (I had already eaten the second one that had been brought to me - it was fine). I turned down the second steak, and I did not eat sides five, six or seven. But I did leave the biggest tip of the three times I was there. Back in my cabin I am pretty much dead tired and the ship is rocking. So I watch a little TV and go to sleep. Day 13 - day at sea I wake up and the ship is still rocking. I think it is pretty early because there is no light coming in the window, until I realize the room stewardess closed the drapes so she would have something to hang the towel monkey on. It's not really that early, but I can catch the sunrise if I want. I decide I'm too tired for that and check out the travel channel. We are still heading northwest to get around Cuba at 19 knots. There is a 30 knot wind coming from the north east and the ship is pitching up and down pretty good. I figure it is only about an eight or nine inch motion, but found out later from the captain that it was three feet. While I am watching the travel channel the ship begins its turn to the right. Soon we will be headed north east, toward Miami. While I don't feel sea sick, I decide to error on the side of caution and I take one ginger tablet. After my shower I sit out on the balcony for a while and watch the horizon. The combination of the two really helps to bring me back from 95% to 100%. I go to the disembarkation talk, mainly because the senior officers will be there after for a Q & A session (barring any distressed sailboats). Nothing new in the debarkation talk that I have not heard several times before in I my eight prior cruises. With the ship moving the way it is the cruise director tells the joke about the drunks being the ones who are walking straight. He also talks about the comment cards and then says that if we liked the cruise his name is Paul, and if we didn't like the cruise his name is Mike. Oh good, now I don't have to book Mexico as my next cruise. At the Q & A session someone asks the captain about the sail boat. The sailor was by himself and had started sailing from New York in July. He had recently left Jamaica headed for Panama. He had fallen overboard that morning and had dislocated his shoulder. He was in too much pain to control his boat. In case you are wondering how he got back on board, people who sail alone tie themselves to the boat for safety. We took him to Grand Cayman where he got patched up and is making arrangements for someone to take him back out to his boat in a few days. We also learned that the captain considers this to be good weather. After all, when under way the ship is moving at up to 25 knots, so a 30 knot winds does not mean much to him. We learned the ship has a range of about 4500 nautical miles. We refueled in Cartagena which would have been around 3500 to 3700 nautical miles if I recall correctly. One nautical mile is 1.15 land miles. We also learned that there is no difference between the stern and aft and the difference between a boat and a ship is you can put a boat on a ship, but you cannot put a ship on a boat. Before the officers got there the cruise director asks someone to ask about the water in the pools (fresh or salt). Somebody actually asked that one. As soon as we heard the question we started laughing. The chief engineer gave a serious answer and of course the passenger then said, oh, that explains why the pools (which have salt water) are so rough. I am sure the offers laughed because they had been caught by surprise, and not because this was a new joke for them. The captain was asked the old standby about if you are here, who is steering the ship. Of course he has heard this one several times. So he told us one time he told a passenger that if it Tuesday it must be housekeeping. Well the passenger thought he was serious and put a negative comment on the comment card says that it was irresponsible to have housekeeping steering the ship on Tuesday. So this time he said he has no idea (yes he does - it is the auto pilot). I head back to the cabin to get caught up. I upload my photos from yesterday and write this. Because of the cloud cover it is cooler outside (about 67, which is 15 degrees less then what we have been experiencing), which is great for me, because now I can keep my balcony door open. Well, I like the weather, but the rest of the passengers don't. The pools and pool deck is just about empty. In the afternoon I watched the last DVD. Then I started to fill out the questionnaire. My thoughts as I reflect back. My favorite port, by far, was Cartagena. The Panama Canal was fantastic. I really did miss the outdoor BBQ. My first cruise was a fourteen night Alaska cruise on a ship built in 1957 or 1958 (I was invited by my parents for their 50th wedding anniversary). Another of their guests was the travel agent. At the time she mentioned that one week is not long enough (true). Ten or eleven days are perfect. Two weeks is too long. At the time that seemed true. But now two weeks does not seem too long. It was great to realize that after one day at sea and two ports that the cruise was not half over. The atmosphere was much different with so few children on the ship. Not better and not worse - just different. I still prefer traditional dining. Yes I met interesting people when I shared a table. But on my last cruise (with Royal Caribbean) my table mates were interesting people also. The reason I like traditional dining is that with Freestyle you have to make reservations, and that requires thinking and planning. I would rather use the thinking and planning time for figuring out how I can have more fun, not for figuring out when I want to eat. Also, since the shows occur during dinner time, if you want to see the show you are still pretty much stuck to a set dining schedule. I say this even though, because of the demographic on this cruise, I was able to eat all my extra cost meals late, when they were half price. On the Star it was the early meals that were half price. As for the cabin, it is an AC penthouse suite. This is one level above the smaller suites at the rear of the ship. The cabin size is about the same as a mini or junior suite on other ships. The size of the balcony was great and I put it to good use. But this cabin could easily sleep three or four (by having a bed or two come out of the ceiling or a sleeper sofa). Limiting it to two limits it to couples, and suites are great for families with young children. Even an AA suite, which would be great for families, is limited to just two. The butler and concierge where nice, but not necessary. It was nice having one person to call for all my needs. However, usually I called her for reservations, and there is one central number to call for reservations. Breakfast and/or lunch at Cagney's is nice, but just gives you a somewhat exclusive place to eat. I like eating on my balcony, which I did several times. The butler spent most of his time trying to get me to ask him to do something for me. He seemed surprised when I tipped him and even said that he did not do that much for me (true - but some of the tip was for his effort and attitude). Did I enjoy the cruise? Very much! The ship and the staff were great. I did feel a little slighted being on a maiden voyage with nothing special (no special souvenir program for example) and that the ship was not totally converted to the Jade (the interior was still Hawaiian, the final outside paint job had not been done, the casino was not ready - even though I did not gamble, the lack of production shows, the missing outdoor BBQ units … None of this was important, but it would have made the cruise a little more special. This review may be long, but it only represents one person's experience on an itinerary that is not likely to be repeated in the near future (I expect the Jade will spend a long time in the Atlantic before, if ever, it is transferred back to Hawaii). I hope however, that it gives the reader some idea of what a special cruise is like, and even though cruising in general is special, this was a special cruise even when compared to cruising in general. Day 14 - Debarkation day I woke up after the ship turned around in the turning basin. We arrived a little early. Soon afterward the Jewel pulled up in front of us. However, from this point forward things started to slow down. As part of the BAGS program I was supposed to be off the ship by 8:50am. As I understand the schedule, the express group (take your own bags off) was first. The VIPs were second. The BAGS group was third, then the colored tags. Fortunately I was in a suite so the concierge allowed me to join the VIP group. Unfortunately the VIP group did not get off until 9:00am, and I was the first person not dragging any luggage to get off the ship. When I got to the truck they refused to take my luggage. They said I would have to call NCL for a refund. On top of that, they refused to give me my luggage tags. As a result, when I got to the airport, I could not curb check my luggage, because Continental's records showed that two luggage tags had already been printed. Oh great. This was after fighting for a taxi. This was not the way I wanted to end my vacation. Fortunately the check in line was not too bad and I was able to get my bags checked through to my sister's house, where I am spending the weekend before flying home Monday morning. The security line was fairly long. Fortunately I have elite status with Delta which Continental honors, so I made it past security by 10:00am. Otherwise it would have been closer to 10:20am. Nonetheless, I could not believe the number of people who did not know how to get past the metal detector. Here is a hint - remove all the metal in your pockets. So, while they say anyone with a flight after 11:30am can use BAGS, based on my experience, I would not use the program unless I was flying after 12:30pm. One small glitch in clearing the ship and this program will slow you down (and remember, I had VIP status - I'm not sure where I would be if I did not have VIP status). Also, in case you are wondering, Miami Airport does not offer free Internet access. When I get to the final destination both of my bags are two of the first six off the plane (thank you elite status and Continental). However, at my sister's house I find one lock missing and one slightly damaged (that is TSA's fault, not Continental's fault). The damaged lock I am able to fix with a pair of pliers and I did have an extra lock with me. My flight home on American was a direct flight, but during the layover a mechanical issue popped up, and we ended up about 1 ½ hours late arriving in Burbank. Well, I hope you found this review helpful in some way. For me, now it's time to start planning the shore excursions for my next cruise, which leaves in about six weeks. Read Less
Sail Date February 2008
Wife and myself are early 50's. We've been on 15+ cruises, most very good to excellent, this one was near the bottom of the heap. Embarkation was very quick, efficient and organized. We were in a penthouse suite on deck 8 below ... Read More
Wife and myself are early 50's. We've been on 15+ cruises, most very good to excellent, this one was near the bottom of the heap. Embarkation was very quick, efficient and organized. We were in a penthouse suite on deck 8 below the bridge. The suite was roomy, and clean, very nice large bathroom with separate tub and shower area. Great view forward. Furnishings are getting a bit worn and the bed was among the worst I've slept in anywhere. NCL advertises butler and concierge service with the suite. The concierge saved the trip for us. Erika was her name and she was excellent. Erika checked with us multiple times daily and arranged our dinner reservations even at the last minute. She answered any questions we had quickly and efficiently. She stopped by with priority tender tickets without even asking. Our butler was pretty much a doorknob, all show and no go. All we wanted from him was to have our ice bucket kept full, thats it, no more necessary. Guess what, we still constantly had to try to find ice. We finally found one of the cabin stewards who helped us and he was not even from our area of deck 8. We tipped him very generously. We found most of the staff to be very friendly, some tried very hard to please but most seemed overworked. Dining. I have to say I never had a wider contrast of food quality on any cruise. Unfortunately the bad far outweighed the good. The good was the duck in the French bistro. The second night in the 7 seas dining room, lobster was fair but the beef wellington served the same night was far better, maybe even excellent. East Meets West, wife had an excellent but overcooked rib-eye, I had a NY strip, it was ok, but not worth the extra charge. Now for the BAD food, Hockey puck like things served as hamburgers, dried out chicken, and about everything else in the buffets were tasteless. Pizzas were a joke, come on NCL anyone should be able to make a decent pizza. We tried the main dining room a couple times for lunch and found out they just went and picked up some buffet items to put on a plate and served them to you. We got up and left right after they served the most unappetizing looking "meatloaf" like thing. We then went to the buffet and had some tasteless pasta. About the only things edible at the buffet were some breakfast items but I have to say the bacon every day tasted old or rancid (maybe they were cooking it in old grease??) We would look at the dinner menu's for the main dining rooms and the selections were very boring and uninspired. Who wants to eat turkey and chicken every night. I would suggest that NCL could charge $5.00 per person more per day, thats $35.00 for a week and improve their food quality. I guess this is their ploy to get people to pay for the surcharge restaurants. We didn't have a problem paying extra if it was good. Of the surcharge restaurants, the Italian place was not good at all. The veal shank which some people rave about was the worst I've had anywhere. I did not gain any weight on this cruise...HMMMM???? Enough on the food. We like to spend a lot of time in 2 places when we cruise, first the pool area, On the SUN it was so overcrowded it was near impossible to find a spot anywhere that was out of the wind. Forget trying to use the hot tubs, they were overflowing with spring breakers, some semi-clothed and leaving not much to your imagination. The second place we like normally is the casino. Not on the SUN, this one was so smoke filled it was unbreathable most evenings. We talked to a good number of fellow non-smoking passengers that boycotted the casino too. The only time we could play any blackjack was when they opened a table on the pool deck and it was so windy and cold you could not stay there long. Entertainment, the poolside Caribbean band was pretty good but they must have one heck of a contract with NCL, seemed they would play 3 or 4 songs, then go on break for half an hour. The "lounge" band was hot and cold, some songs they did well some would turn any milk within 100 ft sour. Ports. Roatan was very cool, (not temperature) We did a Victor Bodden tour and loved it, We did zip-lining WOW, We went to a beach for a while, did lunch at this neat on the water joint and had excellent fresh grilled snapper and shrimp. We also did the monkeys at Victors house. This was the best tour "bang for the buck" anywhere. Our driver Carlos was friendly and shy, showed us a lot of the Island. Belize, We had been there before, and wanted to do a riverboat tour that was not full enough for the operator to run. We shopped and had a few (quite a few) belikin's. Cozumel, Been there before, lots of ships (8) in port so we taxi'd to Mr Sanchez beach area, wife had a great massage, I lounged at the beach and had a great waiter bring me quite a few xx beers and excellent nachos and guac. NCL private Island. Nice sand, clean, overcrowded and more NCL buffet food, what can I say but I've seen and experienced MUCH better. Debarkation was quick and efficient, going thru customs was a breeze, I think they were too busy to even want to ask questions or look at anything. They were the most laid back of any customs office anywhere. We had a late flight back from FLL so we took the everglade tour to kill some time, not a bad tour, pretty interesting area. We used NCL's bag check service to send our bags directly home from the ship, all went well with that except for Northwest airlines loosing one for a couple days. Overall, our vacation was not bad but we didn't let NCL's shortcomings affect us too much. We booked this last minute and we got some much needed R&R. NCL needs to "kick it up a notch" in my opinion to compete with the other mass market cruise lines. They certainly know how to try and nickel and dime you when they can. Two things that would make them more equal to their rivals would be an major increase in food quality/variety and get the smoking out of the casino! Read Less
Sail Date March 2008
This was my second cruise, my first being Alaska with Holland America back in 2000. Overall, I was thrilled with my experience on the Norwegian Spirit and I would definitely consider traveling with them again. We embarked in New Orleans, ... Read More
This was my second cruise, my first being Alaska with Holland America back in 2000. Overall, I was thrilled with my experience on the Norwegian Spirit and I would definitely consider traveling with them again. We embarked in New Orleans, and it was quick and painless. My only problem was that I discovered early in the morning on the day of our departure that the ticket packet mailed to me by Norwegian contained lots of supporting documents but no actual tickets. I had filed the packet away in my suitcase after I received it in the mail, assuming that it was complete. In retrospect, that was a dumb mistake on my part. On the morning of our cruise I was reviewing the information they sent me, noticed a curious lack of ticket-like documents, and called the 1-800 number. The Norwegian rep was rude and argued with me about the packet's cover letter. She insisted that the letter instructed me to download the tickets from the Norwegian website, but once I read the letter to her she had to concede that no web address was given. In fact, the packet's brochure began with the bold-faced words "This packet contains your tickets." Finally, I asked her to stop arguing with me and simply tell me how to solve the problem. She directed me to the appropriate web site, the receptionist at my hotel let me use her computer, and we proceeded to the ship with our tickets in hand! So, even if your letter doesn't tell you where to go online, check www.norwegian.com/edocs to download your ticket. Once we got to the port, the people were great and we were on the ship in no time. We stayed in a level CC stateroom (one with a picture window), and we were very happy with our accommodations. Nothing fancy, but plenty nice enough. We didn't spend a ton of time in our cabin anyway! Our stewards were very polite and efficient. We always had fresh ice, but we only got one towel animal in the whole week! Maybe the crew make more of an effort with those when they know there are kids in a cabin (no kids with us). The food was great. I am not a fan of buffets, but Raffles was fine for breakfast and great for a quick lunch. We ate in Windows and in the Garden room, which were both wonderful. My favorite meals were the mahi mahi at Windows and the duck a l'orange that I enjoyed at Le Bistro. Room service was only OK for breakfast (tiny portions and a very limited selection), but good for lunch. They will bring an excellent personal-size pizza to your room, which you'll appreciate very much after a day of hiking Mayan ruins in 90 degree heat! On my first day at sea, I enjoyed the 50 minute Swedish massage at the ship's spa. It was amazing, and very much up to snuff so long as you take into account that you're on a cruise ship and not a luxury resort. I lingered in the sauna afterwards, which was amazing. It's tucked out of the way so I was the only one to even walk by the door for over an hour, and the sauna has one wall made of windows so you have an amazing view of the ocean from there. The pool was nice - I spent an afternoon laying out. There were plenty of lounge chairs. My only complaint was that our cruise was at the beginning of Spring Break season, so all the hot tubs were jam packed with drunken 21 year olds. They loudly monopolized the hot tubs all day, every day. Norwegian probably can't do much about this, though. Our ports were great. We had a brief visit to Roatan, arriving at 4 pm and leaving at 8 pm. I participated in a dolphin encounter booked through the ship at Anthony's Key resort. It was absolutely amazing, and I highly recommend it. I booked two shore excursions in Santo Tomas. In the morning, we visited the Las Escobas waterfalls for a wonderful hike and swim. It was early, 8:30 am, so the heat hadn't set in yet and it was a very relaxing and scenic walk. In the afternoon, we did a tour to Livingston. It was eye-opening and fun, with great shopping and friendly locals. My only problem was the heat - a constant theme through the rest of our trip. Every day it was over 90 degrees with at least 90% humidity, and everywhere I went seemed to be short on shade or breezes. It was just hotter than I had expected. It made for less energy and a greater need to crash at the end of the day and go to bed early. In Belize, we visited Xunantunich. Although the site was amazing, I cannot recommend this tour. After 2 hours of driving clear across Belize to the ruin in a bus that looked fine but stank terribly (I determined after 1.5 hours that the air conditioning was leaking some gassy fume that was making me sick), we arrived at the site. Our guide led us to a small museum there and talked for about 20 minutes about the history of the place. Then, we approached the ruin. My friend and I were excited about climbing to the top, and given the heat we wanted to get started ASAP before we lost our energy. I asked the guide what time she wanted us to reconvene. She responded, "This is a guided tour and I have not released you yet." I was floored, but I apologized for misunderstanding. She then proceeded to essentially hold us captive in the sun for an HOUR AND A HALF expounding further on Mayan history. Of course, everyone who visits such a site is interested in its history, but this was really overkill! She then shocked our entire group when she "released" us for a meager FIFTEEN MINUTES of time for free exploration. Have you ever literally run up and then down a Mayan castle? I have! I invested my entire day at port in this excursion for 15 minutes of time to experience the ruin as I pleased. In Cozumel, I visited Tulum. It was gorgeous, and there is a great (but small and crowded) beach there. We had over an hour to explore on our own after the guided portion of our tour. I took photos of the ruins, dove in the ocean, went shopping and had time for an incredibly strong margarita before we were due back at the tour bus. The tour guide through Sun and Fun tours (booked through the ship) was Raoul. He was possibly the best tour guide I've ever had. He was knowledgeable, courteous and very funny. I can't recommend him highly enough! I used my cell phone to keep in touch with my boyfriend back home while I was on this cruise. There's great reception on the ship, but it's extremely expensive at $5/minute for T-Mobile customers. Instead, I called from the ports for an average of $1.50 to $2.99 per minute. It's amazing what starts to seem affordable when you're on a cruise! All of the ports had wonderful cell phone reception. I also used the ship's internet cafe, which was great. You can buy a package and get internet time for 40 cents per minute. I did not participate in many on-board activities because I was exhausted every night due to my active shore excursions. I did attend the Second City improv comedy show, which I loved. My friend participated in the Norwegian Spirit Idol competition, which was very well-attended and a lot of fun to watch. There were come talented singers on board! So far as the crew goes, 95% of them were wonderful. They were energetic, efficient, courteous and seemed to enjoy working for Norwegian. I spoke with several about working conditions on board and they all had positive things to say. This is in stark contrast to Holland America - the crew on that cruise told me freely that they were treated little better than slaves and I witnessed blatant mistreatment on several occasions there. It nearly put me off cruises altogether. But Norwegian seems to treats its people well, and I appreciate that. I do regret to report that 5% of the crew on the Norwegian Spirit were extremely rude to me. I wonder if this occurred because I look rather young. I am an attorney in my early 30s, but I was frequently mistaken for one of the aforementioned Spring Breakers by my fellow cruisers. I wonder if some of the crew made a similar assumption and felt comfortable disrespecting me as a result. Here are a few examples: ordering a latte at the cafe only to have the barista mutter "Jesus Christ" and roll his eyes before making my coffee, and having a photography staffer publicly ridicule me for asking for a photo cd. In the latter incident, the crew member involved decided to refuse to wait on me after I asked for a $15 photo cd instead of a $20 5x7 enlargement. He insisted that "the printer was asleep because it was a Saturday afternoon and he was too busy." No explanation as to why a 'printer' would need to be called in to burn a cd. It was clear that he was making it up just to give me a hard time. He kept rolling his eyes at me and making exasperated gestures toward the people in line behind me. He then said it was too late to give me any photos at all - no cds, no enlargements. No matter that he told the man in line in front of me to pick up his enlargements at 9 pm. I still don't understand why he was so rude - I was doing my best to be polite - but he ruined my final day on the cruise and made me feel horrible. Overall, Norwegian was great. I loved the ship, my cabin, the food, the spa, the ports and all but one of my shore excursions. I highly recommend this cruise, but if you're a younger adult be prepared to stand up for yourself with a few testy crew members. Read Less
Sail Date March 2008
My wife and I cruised the Sun during the 19 day Panama Canal repositioning cruise from Miami to Vancouver. The following is a long day-by-day review of our trip. Day 1 - Miami, FL First of all I'm happy to report that Freestyle 2.0 ... Read More
My wife and I cruised the Sun during the 19 day Panama Canal repositioning cruise from Miami to Vancouver. The following is a long day-by-day review of our trip. Day 1 - Miami, FL First of all I'm happy to report that Freestyle 2.0 has been implemented for the most part. The first sign of it is in the Miami terminal where they now have a separate check-in line for balcony and mini-suite guests. Not that it mattered because at 12:30, all of the lines were very long. We didn't have to stand in those lines anyway because we had an aft AC penthouse and were taken into a private room to complete the sign up process, meet Erika the concierge, and be escorted onto the ship. Being able to bypass the crowd was a definite perk on a busy day like today. When we got onboard, everyone was given the welcome glass of bubbly. You have a choice of champagne or a mimosa. Then we were met by our butler Roland who escorted us to our cabin, which is beautiful. The separate living room will be great to have for such a long cruise, and the bedding has been upgraded as promised. The bed itself is comfortable. The mattresses don't sag in the middle and at least ours don't need the egg crate toppers that are recommended by other threads. The mattresses have not been replaced yet, more on that later. There's lots of storage space, which is good because we brought a lot of stuff, and there are plenty of toiletries in the bathroom. The large wraparound balcony is soot free so far. We went to Four Seasons for lunch at 1:30. It wasn't crowded at all. The service was very professional and the food was fine. The chilled banana with mango soup was delish! NCL provides a lot of samples on embarkation day. We stopped in Il Adagio after lunch because a new 2.0 feature is the Taste of Freestyle, where some of the specialty restaurants have cold appetizers and desserts samples. After sampling a few desserts we went up to the spa. When you ask for a spa tour during embarkation, all of the masseuses are available to give you a little sample. I had one rubbing a hot stone on my arm while another was given my neck and shoulders a deep tissue massage for a few minutes. I even tried an acupuncture needle in my forearm. Didn't feel a thing. We were also escorted thru the spa to see the different treatment rooms, the salon and the gym. Back in our room around 4pm but our luggage wasn't there yet. An announcement was made at 4:30 that our departure was being delayed because they were just finishing repairs to one of the bow thrusters. We got our bags around 5:30 and the ship finally left at 6:45. By the time we had unpacked and went to the Internet Cafe to pick up a loaner laptop, it was almost 8pm so we just went to the Garden Cafe for a quick bite. We were pleased with the 2.0 changes we saw there. The lighting was dimmed, tablecloths and cutlery were on the tables, and the staff was busing tables regularly. I took advantage of the pasta action station and the Caesar salad action station, while my wife tried the carving station. And the food was very good. We'll have no issues with going to the Garden Cafe for dinner again. We attended the Welcome Aboard show at 9:00 in the Stardust Lounge. It was a sampler show where all of the entertainers came onstage and performed one song each. Each act was very good. We also got to meet the cruise director, Denny. Day 2 - At Sea In the morning, we enjoyed another 2.0 feature. Il Adagio is now open for breakfast and lunch for VIP guests, with no cover charge. They have a superb menu service and a breakfast buffet to choose from. Erika is there to check on you and make sure you have everything you need. We'll definitely be going here for breakfast on sea days (and we have 10 of them). We then spent some time touring the ship and getting used to the layout. The highlight of our day was the CC Meet and Greet which NCL scheduled at 4:00 in Las Ramblas. I'm thrilled to say that of the 33 people in our roll call, only one failed to show up. We had custom t-shirts made for everyone. And we had a great turnout of NCL management too. Captain Von Knorring was there as well as Denny the CD, Rochelle the Group Services coordinator, Sean the Hotel Services manager, Andrea the Food and Beverage manager and the bar manager too. The roll callers were impressed and appreciate their showing up. Thanks also to Rochelle for the catering. The captain expanded on the bow thruster problem and reassured us that they were fine now and that we had made up the lost time. We were told that there were a few 2.0 features still to be implemented because the equipment hasn't been delivered yet, such as the chocolate fountain or the new mattresses that are being custom built in Italy and will come with memory foam. They should be delivered by June. And Denny told us that the crew all pay attention to Cruise Critic, so they know what the pet peeves are, and they take the compliments to heart and the criticisms with a grain of salt. Tonight was the first 'Dress Up or Not' night, which meant photogs in the lobbies and lobster in the dining rooms. We went to the first showing of 'Hey Mr. Producer' instead. We got to sit in the VIP section close to the stage, another penthouse perk. The Jean Ann Ryan Company is still on board and they didn't disappoint. I enjoyed the show even though I'm not a Broadway show tunes kind of guy. Then we went to Pacific Heights for a late dinner because we wanted something light before bed. I had a great clam chowder appetizer and perch entrEe, and the menu said it was only 505 calories total. This restaurant is super for those looking to still fit into their clothes on day 19 of the cruise. We tried our luck in the casino, but the luck was bad on this night. And it's not the casino's fault if it's a little smoky. I could feel the cool air circulating but it gets overpowered by the smoking gamblers. So don't complain about NCL if your shirt smells afterward, ask the guy beside you to butt out instead. Day 3 - Roatan, Honduras In Roatan we took a Victor Bodden Best of Roatan tour that was very enjoyable. Our guide Juan Carlos was surprised to find out that this was the last time the Sun would be calling on Roatan this season. Back on the ship, at 5:45 Erika stopped by our cabin to check on us. Since we had no dinner plans, she called to see if Teppanyaki was available for 6:30. She came back and told us that not only is it available but it would be a private dinner because we were the only ones to reserve! She's never seen a cruise like this one. Not many people are making reservations. Maybe because of the length of the cruise, people don't feel rushed to go to the specialty restaurants right away. There will probably be less space available near the end as people realize the cruise is almost over and they haven't done this or that yet. So we'll take advantage of it now. Turns out we weren't alone for dinner anyway. 3 other couples showed up last minute and we welcomed the company. The more the merrier. We had a great dinner too. Day 4 - At Sea Back to Il Adagio for breakfast. The food is too good. We're going to have to start watching what we eat, so after digesting a little, we went to the gym. It was very busy, no treadmills were available, so we went to the promenade deck and did 7 laps (2 miles) instead. There were a couple of things in the Freestyle Daily that I wanted to comment on. The first is another 2.0 feature, the enhanced educational and lifestyle program called NCL U. There are 3 classes at various times today, a South American destination lecture, a lecture on how to make your own Travel Diary using a computer, and a Salsa dance class. The classes seem to be only on sea days. The second item is a Spa special, a 50 min Hot Stone massage for only $109. That's a great price for a cruise ship massage on a sea day. I signed up for one at 2pm. We spent the rest of the morning on the pool deck, and 2.0 has been implemented there too. The deck chairs have drink flags that get quick responses when raised. Staff still wander the decks calling out for drink requests but it appears subtle and less obtrusive, and they carry the spritz bottles if you want a shot of water to cool you down. It's also quieter by the pool. Denny the CD had told us that the pool deck is now a quiet zone. The canned music isn't too loud, and when the live band is onstage, their volume has been turned down too. We've met various people from our roll call around the ship since our meet and greet. I'm really glad we joined these boards as it has only enhanced our vacation by having so many new friends onboard with us. This evening we had a couple of events to attend. Our Latitudes member party was at 5pm in the Stardust lounge. Actually it was the second of 2 parties. There are over 800 members on board so they had to split it up to accommodate them all. The second event was the Captains VIP party at 7pm in the East Indies room. At both parties you meet the Captain and the department heads and have free drinks and canapEs. Now if only I can finagle an invite to the Captains Table for dinner. Afterward we went to Seven Seas for dinner. We had a fine meal and the service was prompt and friendly. One thing to note about the dining room is that the 'Always Available' items (like Caesar Salad, Salmon, Steak, and Chicken Breast) are now actually on the menu. No more guessing about what you can have. Day 5 - Puerto Limon, Costa Rica Today we did the NCL Mangrove Kayaking tour. There is not much to do at the port itself, you had to take some type of tour to really enjoy this stop. We were bussed to a resort with 4 other couples and had an enjoyable day paddling up and down an estuary while guides pointed out the flora and fauna. We saw howler monkeys, 3-toed sloths, blue iguanas, bats, herons, egrets and other birds. And we had a little excitement when a small fish jumped into the kayak of another couple startling the wife so much she almost tipped over. Back on the ship at 1:30 we went to the Garden Cafe for lunch but couldn't get anywhere near the food. The lines were huge, so we went across to Pacific Heights for some pizza and pasta. Again the lines were long. Does everyone eat at 1:30? So we went to Il Adagio for the suite lunch. Never any crowds there. Trying to watch the waistline, we skipped the entrEe and had just the appetizer and dessert. Here's a tip regarding lunch. On port days, only the Garden Cafe, Pacific Heights and Seven Seas are open to all. But on sea days, a 2.0 feature has 'one or two' alternative restaurants open for lunch in addition to those three. You have to check the Daily to see what the alternatives are. Yesterday it was a poolside BBQ. Tomorrow Le Bistro is open for brunch from 11:00 to 1:00. Tonight we had dinner with a couple from our M&G in Four Seasons. Great menu tonight. Everyone except me had prime rib which I'm told was very tender. I went with the Cooking Light Tilapia which was also good, and used up the saved calories by getting 2 desserts, a coconut cream pie and a blackberry cheesecake. Yum. We went to see the Comedy Magic of Rich Purpura tonight. Pretty funny, kind of like Don Rickles doing card tricks. When we got back to our room, there was a snake on our bed. Don't worry, it was the kind with chocolate mint eyes. Day 6 - At Sea We've already had to put our clocks back an hour twice on this cruise. Now we're heading east to Columbia and have to put our clocks forward an hour. I'm OK as long as I don't miss my 10:30 spa appointment. They have some really good packages there. I signed up for a relaxation package that includes 1 Hot Stone, 1 Seaweed and 1 Deep Tissue massage that saves $125 on the cost if I had booked them all separately. I'm doing the Seaweed aromatherapy massage today, the others later in the cruise. In todays Daily they have an Oxydermy Facial special for $109 ($60 off). My DW is doing that at the same time. We got our laundry bag today. Fill the bag for $15. It's too early yet, we brought enough clothes. They ended up offering it 3 times during the cruise but we never needed to use it. I have a few items to mention about menus: 1) The room service breakfast menu that you leave on your doorknob is different for the regular cabins than for the suites. The regular menu is a continental breakfast (pastries, cold cereals, yogurt, fruit, juice and coffee or tea). The suite menu is all that plus egg and meat choices. 2) So far, only Il Adagio has an item identified as their Signature dish on their menu, which is Lobster Ravioli. The specialty restaurants are supposed to have one. This is another 2.0 feature that hasn't been fully implemented yet. 3) It was reported on other threads that the specialty restaurant cover charges were increased on April 12. I'm pleased to report that is not entirely true. Only Teppanyaki had its cover charge raised. Here are the cover charges as seen on the menus today: Il Adagio - $10, Le Bistro - $15, Ginza - $15, East Meets West - $20, Teppanyaki - $25. For dinner tonight, we went to Pacific Heights at 7:30 but couldn't get in. There was no space until 8:30 so we went upstairs to East Meets West. No problem getting in without a reservation, only 6 tables were occupied. As we walked by Teppanyaki, only 2 people were enjoying the 6:30 seating there, and only a few tables were occupied in Ginza too. I guess a lot of people on this cruise are averse to paying cover charges. That's fine with us because the service is great when the restaurants aren't busy. And they don't know what they're missing either. The filet mignon I had tonight was one of the best I've ever had. It just melted in my mouth. When we left, Teppanyaki was empty. Nobody was there for the 8pm seating! Don't expect that on the Alaska cruises, but you people taking the South America repo cruise in the fall can look forward to it. I'm sorry but I have to climb up on my soapbox and preach a little. I really don't know how people on these boards can complain about the food or the service on the Sun. Honestly, I just don't get it. We've been onboard for 6 days now, tried 7 of the 10 restaurants, and haven't had one bad experience yet. If it happens I'll let you know, but maybe the 2.0 investments are paying off. Or maybe some people are just pickier than us. I do know the Sun crew is very proud of having the highest satisfaction rating in the fleet, and it shows. I guess I'm risking being called 'an NCL lover' which I'm not. I'm a cruise lover. This is only my second NCL cruise and there were a few bad moments on the PofAm last year, but I gave them another chance and I'm happy I did. Day 7 - Cartagena, Columbia We had tried to book an NCL tour of Old Cartagena the day before but couldn't get in. It had a waiting list. So we just left the ship and hired a taxi to take us to the old city as well as some shopping. Well, the coordinator of the taxis must have told the driver only about the shopping. He never did take us to the old city and didn't speak any English so we couldn't tell him where we wanted to go. So it was a short day and in retrospect maybe not a bad thing because we heard from others that the old city was very crowded today. The HAL Westerdam was tied up beside us and it's a bigger boat than the Sun. There were literally dozens of tour buses all taking people to the old city, so I think I'm glad we missed that scene after all. Speaking of Columbia, one thing I forgot to mention for you jewelry lovers is that last Monday was the grand opening of the new Columbian Emeralds store on the Sun. They have sales everyday in the Daily. So far I've managed to keep the DW distracted whenever we pass it on deck 7, but there are still 12 days to go and I don't know how much longer that's going to work. Anyway, we were back sooner than expected so things onboard were quiet. We had the gym almost to ourselves and there were no lines in the Garden Cafe for lunch. Today they had a chilled raspberry soup to die for, and they also had fresh blackberries in the fruit station so I dropped some of those in my soup too. Oh man, I could eat that every day and not get tired of it. I've mentioned our concierge Erika a few times previously. She is going a great job for us. She checks in every day to see if there's anything we need, any reservations that we need made, asks us how our day was. She's so much more attentive that the concierge we had on PofAm last year. Where Erika is the proactive type, Roland our butler is more the reactive type. That's not a slam against Roland, he's courteous, friendly and professional, and when we want something he's at our door with it within 15 minutes. What more can you ask for? It's just the two types of service come with their own styles. So when Erika called today, we had learned our lesson from last night and made an 8pm reservation at Pacific Heights thru her. The service was fantastic tonight. Pacific Heights has been busy on this cruise so they've brought extra staff over from the specialty restaurants to help out. Our waiter was Candido from the Philippines. In conversation with him we had mentioned bring married 25 years, so at the end of our meal he comes over and says he has a present for our silver anniversary (which was last August). He unfolds a paper napkin and starts to form a rose out of the napkin while serenading us to 'Only You'. By the end of the song he hands the paper rose to me to give to my DW and the whole restaurant has stopped to applaud him. So if you're on the Sun in the future, go to Pacific Heights for a fine light meal, and hope Candido is still there. Day 8 - Panama Canal Our day started bright and early for 2 reasons. The first was the Panama Canal souvenir sale started on the pool deck at 6:30am. This was our first chance to buy shirts, hats, books and other trinkets commemorating our transiting the canal. Judging from the crowds, it was a very successful day for the NCL gift shop. The second reason was the ship had reached the canal entrance by 8am. And when we got there, the HAL Westerdam was already entering the first lock. It looks like we're doing this transit together. This was our first time here so I'm not an expert, but for those of you who have never done the Panama Canal I'll try to explain what happens from what we've been told. If you have done it before, fell free to skip ahead. Before we enter the locks, 3 pilots come onboard along with a commentator. The commentator (as the name suggests) provides a commentary for the passengers over the PA system. The first set of locks is the Gatun Locks. These locks will raise the ship 26 meters to the level of Gatun Lake. There are 3 chambers to pass through, and there are 2 channels for ships to pass side by side. All traffic today appeared to be traveling from the Caribbean to the Pacific. As the ship approaches the first lock, the ship is tied to the mules, 3 on each side. The mules are small locomotives that run on tracks beside the locks, and they help keep the ship aligned in the center of the lock. The mules don't pull the ship through, the pilot controlling the engines does that. The ship enters the lower lock and the gates close behind us. Valves are opened and using gravity, the water from the lock above us is emptied into our lock, causing the ship to rise. When the water level in the two locks is the same, the forward gates are opened and the ship enters the second lock. This procedure is continued until we clear the third lock and sail into the lake. There were a lot of cargo ships anchored outside the Caribbean entrance to the canal as well as in Gatun Lake, all waiting their turn. The cruise ships are given priority because those companies pay a premium to have a quick transit. Can you imagine the nasty postings on this board if 1900 passengers had to wait around for a few days to pass through? Passing through Gatun Lake and the Gaillard Cut takes about 4 hours. Just after passing under the Centennial Bridge and crossing the Continental Divide, you reach the Pedro Miguel Locks, where you start the process of being lowered to the Pacific. There is only one lock to transit here, then you travel another mile across Miraflores Lake to the Miraflores Locks, which has 2 chambers. The process I described above is repeated except the water in our chamber is emptied into the lock ahead to lower us instead. After you clear the last lock, you sail under the Bridge of the Americas which links North America to South America, and enter the Pacific Ocean. I mentioned before that we have an aft penthouse cabin which allowed us great views of the locks after we had entered the chambers. We've become friends with another CC couple who have a forward penthouse overlooking the bow. So the four of us, along with two more couples we met at our M&G, spent most of the transit on either their balcony or ours. Although I love our cabin, I have to admit that the forward cabin had much better viewing of the canal and was also out of the sun, so thanks to our new friends for letting us visit. Regarding the Westerdam, we kept pace with her for the entire transit. It was interesting to watch her be raised and lowered while we were beside her. Sometimes she towered over us, and sometimes we dwarfed them. It's funny that the Sun passengers got a lot of pictures of the Westerdam and vice versa. People were shouting across to us "What's your email address? I'll send you my pictures!" By the time we left Panama, it was 6pm. It was a very enjoyable day, and one we'll remember forever. We had been partying all day and by now we were full and exhausted so we skipped dinner and went to bed early. Day 9 - At Sea Three days until we reach Acapulco. What do you do when you're faced with three sea days in a row? Well, if you find yourself bored in that situation, you can't blame the Sun for it. There are all kinds of things to do during sea days. A look at the Daily shows the following: - Texas Hold'em, Blackjack and Slots tournaments in the casino - NCL U classes on Bridge, Digital Photography, and Rumba dancing - Yoga, Pilates, and Spinning classes in the gym - Hypnosis seminar to stop smoking in Dazzles (I forgot to mention that Nadeen, the Queen of Hypnosis performed last night in the Stardust Lounge) - 6 different specials in the spa So with all these options, what did we do today? Nothing. The last two days were busy and we wanted some quiet time to recharge, so we awoke late, had breakfast at Il Adagio, went back to our cabin and put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door. We emerged from our cocoon at 7:30 to have our anniversary dinner at Le Bistro. We had pre-ordered the Anniversary package because we thought it was a great deal, even though our anniversary isn't until August. The package includes dinner and wine at Le Bistro with no cover charge. Dinner was once again very good, although I admit that my DW had the better of it. Her beef tenderloin entree and chocolate napoleon dessert were excellent. What they don't advertise is that the package also includes a small anniversary cake that you can have there or take back to your cabin. Oh yeah, almost forgot the big news. We have been invited to dine with the Captain tomorrow night. Day 10 - At Sea After reading the Daily, I started calling today Champagne Tuesday, because there was a lot of bubbly flowing around the ship this afternoon. There was the Champagne Art Auction in Dazzles, the Future Cruise Champagne presentation in the Stardust Lounge, and the Champagne Spa Bazaar in the spa. Unfortunately they were all scheduled around the same time so you had to choose which party to go to. We chose the art auction. It wasn't our first auction at sea but it was the first time we actually bid on something. I won't say how much we spent, but we're happy with what we got. Then there was another Captains VIP party that evening, so more champagne was to be had. These VIP parties aren't just for suite guests, gold and higher Latitudes members are invited as well. It was 'Dress Up or Not' night and we chose to dress up because as I mentioned before, we were invited to have dinner with the Captain. There were 8 guests in all plus the Captain, the Staff Captain Roger, the Hotel Director Sean, and the Chief Engineer Marijan. As you can imagine, the service was spectacular, and the menu was prepared by the executive chef specifically for the Captain's table. I had Roger to my right and my DW had Sean to her left. Roger is a fully qualified ship's Master, and is second in command on the Sun. One of the most interesting topics of conversation at the table was the Pride of Aloha which is formerly the Sky, sister ship of the Sun. When the Sun gets to Vancouver, both Roger and Sean are leaving to go to the Pride of Aloha, which is finishing its Hawaii tours this week. Then it will be repositioned to Miami, renamed back to the Norwegian Sky, and will start doing 3 and 4 day Bahamas cruises. Day 11 - At Sea This was a quiet day on board. I guess with all the champagne from yesterday, everybody is sleeping it off. But we still managed to find lots of stuff to do. I had to go make arrangements for my art purchases, had a deep tissue massage, we lost some more money in the casino, we had dinner with another CC couple, we went to see the comedian in the lounge. A typical fun day at sea. A few people have mentioned my using the expensive internet time to post this review. Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of the internet available onboard. 1) Either bring your own laptop or get a loaner onboard. If you purchase one of their internet packages, NCL will give you a loaner laptop free of charge. I did this rather than haul mine around. It has a wireless card in it, so I can go to any hotspot on board and get online (only a small number of cabins are wired with Ethernet on the Sun, and mine isn't one of them). I write these reviews beforehand on the laptop in Word, and then logon to the internet, go straight to this thread via My Favorites and copy and paste the review into a new post. It only takes a few minutes. 2) Purchase your internet package on embarkation night and you'll get a bonus of 20 minutes for the 250 minute package, or 10 minutes for the 100 minute package. If you are a Latitudes member, make sure the Internet manager knows that and he'll give you another 30 minutes for the 250 package, and 15 minutes for the 100 package. I purchased the 250 minute package, but I actually got 300 minutes to use. 3) Watch for specials in the Daily. For instance, tomorrow there is a Happy Hour from 5pm to 7pm, where you get half your time back if you go online during that time. Day 12 - Acapulco, Mexico Coming into Acapulco Bay in the pre-dawn light was a beautiful site to see. We had never been here before and had read good and bad things on the ports boards so we didn't know what to expect. We took an NCL tour to see the ancient petroglyphs at Palma Sola, which was 1000 feet above sea level, overlooking Acapulco Bay. It was a physical tour that involved a lot of steep stair climbing, but it was very interesting and we really needed the exercise. We got some super photographs too. Then they took us back down to the beach for a Mexican lunch. We chose to walk back to the ship after lunch, it wasn't far. It gave us a chance to meet all of the street vendors, beggars and taxi drivers along the way. We went across the street to tour Fort San Diego as well, and a visit to Acapulco wouldn't be complete without the DW stopping in the duty free stores to buy some authentic Mexican silver jewelry. Day 13 - Manzanillo, Mexico The Sun docked in the cargo port which was about 3 miles to downtown Manzanillo, and the same distance to the beaches in the other direction. We didn't get into any of the beach resort tours that we wanted and we didn't score any last minute openings on the waiting lists, so we decided to just take the shuttle bus into town. It was only $4 roundtrip and they ran every 10 minutes. We felt more comfortable in this port because it was a lot smaller than Acapulco. There were very few street vendors or beggars, and there were good bargains to be found in some of the stores. Once again, we're glad we didn't get into the beach resort tours we wanted. We heard from CC members that they were not as advertised. They were supposed to be provided with resort access and beach chairs, but when they got there all of the chairs were taken and the resorts were overcrowded. It seems no one at NCL knew that this weekend was a Mexican holiday and that all the locals would beat them to the beach. We made it back to the ship in time to have lunch at Il Adagio, then we went to the cabin and watched a movie. The movie choices on TV aren't bad. So far on this cruise, we've seen Juno, Michael Clayton, and I Am Legend. Because we had a late lunch and we had some suite snacks delivered, we didn't feel the need to come out for dinner. Suite Snacks are another unadvertised perk of having a suite. Your butler gives you a card to fill out each day. It lists a number of snacks that you can have delivered the next day at either 5pm or 10pm. You can choose a different snack each day or have the same snack every day. The choices on the Sun include chocolate covered strawberries, brownies, soft pretzels, tortillas and salsa, potato chips, cheese and crackers, veggies and dip, and dried fruits and nuts. In addition to that, we also have the endless bowl of fruit that everyone in a balcony or higher gets. It's not exactly endless, but it does get replenished periodically. If it runs out early, you just ask your butler or steward to get you some more. Day 14 - At Sea We woke up this morning to a chilly surprise. The temperature only made it to 66 F/19 C. We know we're heading north but we're still west of Cabo San Lucas. We expected it to stay warm for at least a few more days. And yet there were still some diehards sunbathing by the pool. I don't think they were taking advantage of the cold towels and spritz service though, unless they filled the bottles with hot water instead. There's not much else to mention today. I had a Hot Stone massage to finish up my relaxation package (appropriate given the weather), we watched another afternoon matinee in our cabin (Pirates of the Caribbean 3), and had dinner with some CC couples at Le Bistro. All week the ship has been offering half off the surcharge from 5:30 to 6:30 in Il Adagio and Le Bistro to encourage people to use the specialty restaurants. It seems to be working, but service tonight was definitely slower because of it. The food was still great though, all 6 people enjoyed everything. Day 15 - At Sea It was even colder today, but we're told it's supposed to warm up by Tuesday. Now we know what an Alaskan cruise may feel like. I went to the Art Seminar today, where the art director told us about the various styles and artists. I think this seminar should be conducted earlier in the cruise, they've already had 4 auctions. They might have sold more art if they told people what to look for beforehand. Today we had tapas and sangria in Las Ramblas. Watch out for the Spanish sausage, it will burn your lips. Make sure you already have your sangria first. Day 16 - At Sea We didn't think it could keep getting colder but it is. The temperature started today at 52F/11C, and we're just across from Los Angeles. They have drained the pools because not even the Canadians are silly enough to go swimming in this weather. And before I get some angry posts in return for that joke, we're proud Canadians too. Of the 1900 passengers on the ship, over 1200 are Canadian. This was a little tidbit that Denny told us way back at the Welcome Aboard show. I would bet that 80 percent of that number is from British Columbia too. We attended another Future Cruises presentation today and we put down our $250 Cruise Rewards deposit. We don't know what cruise we want to take yet. We're thinking of trying either the Mediterranean or the Baltic Sea next. A couple of CC members have already booked a South American cruise next February on the Sun, from Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina. My wife wanted to get our whole CC group together again before the end of the cruise so after checking the Daily to see where the 4pm Happy Hour was, we contacted everybody in the roll call and arranged to meet in the Observation Lounge at 3:45. I'm glad to say almost everyone showed up again. It was great to check in with them and see how their cruise was going. We heard a lot of positive comments, and although there was one or two bad stories passed around, in general everyone was having a great time. And to top it off, while we were all gathered we saw a giant pod of dolphins crossing the ship's path from starboard to port. There had to be at least 100 dolphins putting on a show for us. Day 17 - San Francisco, CA The day started cold and very overcast. It must have rained overnight because we had a lot of soot on our balcony. When we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge, we couldn't see the top of the towers in the fog. But by the time we cleared through U.S. Customs around 9am, the sun was shining and the temperature was in the sixties. Before we left the cabin, we left a note asking the stewards to clean the balcony, which they did. We took an NCL tour to Alcatraz and Sausalito. The prison tour was very interesting. We also stopped in at Pier 39 so the DW could pick up some Ghirardelli chocolates. San Francisco is a beautiful city. We'll have to come back again for a longer stay sometime. But it was a long day so after we left, we had a nap and then a late dinner in Four Seasons. We both had the carved turkey which was great. Once again, the dining rooms are pretty empty at 8:30 so the service is great at that time. Day 18 - At Sea 'The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed...' No, we're not headed for Gilligan's Island, but that aptly describes the seas today. It's a day to use the handrails and stay inside. It's only 48F/9C. But it's also a very interesting day. We had the crew show followed by the Fountains show this afternoon. It was very entertaining. The JAR Company is doing 'Cirque Pan' tonight. I hope the seas calm down for them later. It's the last Dress Up night too, and finally the Chocoholic Buffet is at 10:30. Day 19 - Victoria, BC Getting off the ship was a little slow this morning. As I mentioned earlier, a number of guests were leaving early because they're closer to home in Victoria, but it did clog up the lines going through Canadian customs. The cruise ship port is about half a mile from downtown, but there are shuttle buses to take you there. We chose to walk to burn off some calories. Victoria is especially beautiful in May. The flowers and trees are all blooming and the temperature was in the sixties. We just did a self-guided walking tour thru town and around the harbour to West Victoria, then took a little harbour shuttle boat back to Fishermans wharf. By the time we got back to the ship, we'd been on our feet for 5 hours and walked at least 7 miles. As we were boarding, there were spa staff handing out flyers for a 20-20-20 message special. For only $89, they will do 20 minutes on your neck and shoulders, 20 minutes on your hands and arms, and 20 minutes on your feet and ankles. I went straight there because my feet were killing me. For dinner, we went to Four Seasons with some other CC couples and sadly traded emails and phone numbers and said our goodbyes. And of course the last night of any cruise is Tip night so we thanked our concierge Erika, butler Roland and cabin stewards Carlos and Jay. I know that NCL charges you $10 pp per day (and on a 19 day cruise that adds up), but Erika and Roland aren't included in that, and Carlos and Jay deserved a little more too. Day 20 - Vancouver, BC Disembarkation went smoothly. NCL provides suite guests with VIP disembarkation which allows us off first, but since we were spending a few days in Vancouver in the Pan Pacific hotel right beside the pier, we weren't in any hurry so we didn't leave until 9am. Over the course of this cruise, we both gained 6 pounds each, which isn't bad. I had dieted and lost 7 pounds in the month preceding so I still came out one pound ahead. Keeping active on the ship and doing shore excursions that involved some exercise helped. I have to say that we didn't have one bad meal during the whole cruise, so I don't know what to make of people that come back and complain about the food. I guess it's just a matter of taste. Read Less
Sail Date April 2008
In April, 2008 my wife and I boarded the Norwegian Pearl in Miami for a cruise through the Panama Canal to Seattle, 19 days. We are both 66, and I'm retired Air Force but still working full-time. We've previously gone on a few ... Read More
In April, 2008 my wife and I boarded the Norwegian Pearl in Miami for a cruise through the Panama Canal to Seattle, 19 days. We are both 66, and I'm retired Air Force but still working full-time. We've previously gone on a few short cruises, Carnival (and it WAS!), Celebrity, and Holland American. This was our first 'long' cruise. Embarkation in Miami -we had pick-up from the airport by the cruise line. When we got to the port the process was lengthy, required you to fill out several papers, and then sit for an hour or so. And yes, I had done the on-line check-in. We left the airport about 10:30 and finally got to our room around 2 PM. The bags didn't arrive until well after dinner. The room - quite nice, very adequate closet space and storage drawers, comfortable beds. We booked an unobstructed view picture window, and we were well pleased with the accommodations. Minor gripes - there was only one easily accessible electrical outlet, and we should have brought an extension cord, as we sometimes needed to charge more than one thing at a time. Also, we found the bathroom so narrow that we had to open the door in order to dry off our legs after a shower! The TV was nice enough, but the selection of channels was somewhat limited - would have been nice to have some of the cable channels we have at home, such as Discovery and the History channel. There were two news channels, both of which could have been re-named the Primaries channel, as it seemed that 75% of the programming was about Hillary and Barach. When you board, all of the cruise lines are very well aware that they have exclusive access to a large number of people with a significant amount of disposable income. The cruise line then considers it their moral obligation to help the passengers out as much as they can to dispose of that disposable income. But the Norwegian Cruise Line was by far the most enthusiastic in performing these duties. Also, on any cruise there is a 'hierarchy', with the folks in the upstairs penthouses being at the top of the pecking order. On other cruise lines it was pretty low key, but on NCL it was pretty clear that we were in the cheap seats, having an outside picture window on a lower deck. On the 'at sea' days there was plenty to do - if you enjoy bingo, or buying investment-quality Columbian emeralds, or duty-free gold chain (by the way, do you know the duty on gold? I do - there isn't any!), or participate in an art auction. Also, they made good use of the PA system. There were generally at least a dozen PA announcements, generally by the cruise director, inviting us to participate in the up-coming Bingo, Art Auction, seminar on investment-quality watches, etc., all trying to help you bump up your on-board tab. There were a total of four (4) 'informative' lectures on the cruise - Pirates of the Caribbean, the building of the Panama Canal, etc. And they were good lectures - but only four? We also had destination lectures before each port. Unfortunately these were chiefly concerned with making sure you didn't transgress by taking any tours not arranged by the cruise line and making sure you shopped on shore only at the cruise line approved stores - virtually nothing about the port itself or things to see and do (except take the approved shore excursions). And in one port, Santa Marta, apparently no one on board had any idea about what was there! Even if it was their first stop there they should have been provided SOME information about the city! The food was pretty good, overall - enjoyed the free-style dining, but noticed very early that there was a major difference in service between the 'main' dining room (Summer Palace) and the secondary dining room (Indigo), with the Indigo service being MUCH better! We tried the Summer Palace several times early-on for breakfast, and the food was quite good. I just wish it had been served in a timelier manner! Once I ordered a bowl of oatmeal, and found that by the time I got it that it would not melt the butter! And the eggs Benedict were very well prepared - but would have been MUCH better if they had been served at above room-temperature! We gave up on their breakfasts fast, and ate upstairs at the buffet, where the main problem was finding a seat. The dinner meals were similar - they probably use the same kitchen for both dining rooms, but the Indigo room seemed to have much faster, and better-spaced, service, as they didn't bring you the main course 5 minutes after serving the salad, or wait 15 minutes after removing the dinner dishes to serve the desserts. They also had several specialty restaurants, some requiring an additional charge. The Mexican restaurant was pretty good. We went to several of the other restaurants, but they were not spectacular. Evening entertainment - overall quite good, but - we learned early that you'd better be there a half-hour early if you wanted a seat! They had a nice selection of musicians, all of them quite entertaining. No points off there. Steward Service - I'm sure they were doing the best they could, but there just weren't enough people in the staff to take care of the cabins properly. On a few of the 'at sea' days we'd go out for breakfast and leave the 'make up cabin now' sign up. When we returned the cabin was unmade, so we switched to 'do not disturb'. Out for lunch, change sign. Back from lunch, still no make-up. Finally they came mid-afternoon, and said we needed to leave the room so they could make it up. I couldn't help but contrast this with the service on Holland America, where it seemed that if we went out for 15 minutes the steward was in straightening out the pillows we had disarranged. In fact I wondered if there was a hidden camera that he used to see if we had left the room . . .On the NCL there were a couple of days when we just didn't have the room made up at all. Anyway, points off for room make-up. The transit of the Panama Canal was the high-point of the cruise, by far. We were the 2nd ship to start the Atlantic-Pacific passage that day, and the views were wonderful. There was a very knowledgeable lecturer on the PA system giving us a lot of details about the construction of the canal, the features we were passing, and general canal knowledge. This was by far my favorite day of the cruise, and made up for a LOT of the less pleasant times. Shore excursions - this is probably pretty universal among the cruise lines, but it's annoying to book a tour on-board for $105 and find the same tour on the dock for $40. Also, the information given the night before about each port was scanty to non-existent. Also, at several of the ports you wound up in 20-30 minute lines to get back on the ship. On one occasion in particular they had only one boarding door operating, when there were two open for disembarkation. No idea why they closed the other one. Disembarkation at Seattle- the day before we disembarked we had a disembarkation lecture (where they also pointed out to us that this was our last chance to buy more goodies in the on-board shop) that was very clear on the procedures and timing. Then the last-night newsletter repeated the instructions from the lecture. This should have been pretty simple, as we had already gone through immigration at Los Angeles. So we had a clear picture of what should happen and when. Then we started the actual process and things just went loco. I don't know why the process was so slow, but there were people getting frantic as the clock ticked along and their flight time got closer and closer. The big spenders naturally got to disembark first, and the cheap seats were substantially delayed. Maybe it was the fault of US Customs, but after my previous experiences, I'd prefer to think it was typical of the NCL passenger-handling. When we finally go to disembark we had to find our bags in a LARGE holding area, then find a porter to carry them to a bus, and FINALLY we were off to the airport - where the bus dumped us off a half-mile from the boarding area, and we had to find yet ANOTHER porter to take our bags to the airport proper! We had signed up to disembark the ship at 8:30, and it was about noon when the bus dropped us off at (or near!) the airport. Overall - I paid quite a bit for them to entertain me, and they didn't do a very good job of it. Honestly this was a pretty cheap cruise, and I wound up paying for it. This will be my last Norwegian cruise - I'm already signed up for a South American Rio-to-Seattle cruise on Holland America, and back to the good life! Read Less
Sail Date April 2008
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