We selected an aft facing cabin for our Panama Canal transit, boarding in SFO. A great treat for us was to watch the Navy Blue Angles practice over the bay just before we left. That alone was worth the trip. Leaving SFO under the Golden ... Read More
We selected an aft facing cabin for our Panama Canal transit, boarding in SFO. A great treat for us was to watch the Navy Blue Angles practice over the bay just before we left. That alone was worth the trip. Leaving SFO under the Golden Gate with picture perfect weather was a tremendous experience.
Some of the ports were pretty "why-even-get-off" the ship kind of stops - but we were mainly interested in going through the canal. It would have been nice to stop in Panama.
Cabo San Lucas - Cabo Wabo always fun
Puerto Vallarta - Been there, done that kind of stop.
Huatulco - Nice beaches
Puerto Chiapas - $10 bus trip to town. Got to town and took next bus back. Don't waste your time here.
Puntarenas - Our return delayed by 5.5 hrs by traffic - almost missed the ship. Docked in terrible industrial side of port while other cruise ships docked elsewhere.
Cartigenia - Best stop of the cruise.
Regarding the mini-suite:
(I know NCL sanitizes each cabin between cruises, but for our own piece of mind, whenever we cruise we bring spray sanitizer and wipes. Before we unpack we wipe down everything that may have been touched by previous passengers including the light switches, door knobs and handles and the ice bucket. We provide our own plastic ice bucket liners and ask our steward to use them daily when adding ice. I suggest you do the same. You will feel more at home knowing you aren't making yourself sick on the first day.)
Initially we were quite happy with our stateroom until the sliding door would not stay closed in rougher seas. It took three days of calling reception, talking to our steward before it was finally fixed. For two nights the door would slide open and crash into the other side waking us (and probably our neighbors) up. I finally wedged my tripod into the door to keep it closed. I wish I had thought of it sooner.
The transit through the canal was a great experience, one that should not be missed.
After the Panama Canal our A/C went out. With the sun blazing into the room we had to keep the curtains closed to try and block the scorching sun. Reception promised to send someone up right away, but no one ever showed. To be fair, I heard from another passenger that A/C problems were common on this ship and that the repair could be done from outside the room. A "we were here" note would have been nice. But we suffered for another 3 days until the A/C finally was up to the task of cooling the room. Our steward kept calling his boss to try and get it fixed and it still took three days to resolve.
In the midst of all this, we received a notice that our balcony was to be painted and that we couldn't use it until 10:00 that evening, meaning we would not be able to be on our balcony for sail-away. So now we had an ocean view instead of a mini-suite with balcony. Nice. They decided not to paint after all, but didn't bother to notify us (and I assume others). So the balcony went unused (but paid for).
I need to mention the noise and vibration that occur when the ship accelerates/decelerates, it is very noticeable. You will not wake up surprised to be in port. There will be no stealing silently into or out of port. After a while, it becomes a sort of background noise that you can learn to live with. On balance, the view from our cabin was worth the vibration.
The fact is the ship is old by cruise line standards and the furnishings show the wear and tear of those years, but I was surprised to find that NCL had not replaced a bedside table with obvious cigarette burns. How long had those been there?
Halfway through the cruise the public announcements stopped being echoed on the ships TV channel. Fortunately that was fixed prior to the transit and we were able to listen to the very knowledgable Panama Canal commentator as we progressed through the locks.
Regarding food: Overall the food on NCL is above average, the service is excellent and the staff always cheerful. The worse place IMO to eat is Garden Court buffet which, even with the washy-washy team squirting everyone they can, is a boiling caldron of germs. The variety of food there is limited and would appeal to those of us who like a routine breakfast. You might consider bringing along some disposable gloves if you are going to use the drink dispensers, the dressing pitchers, the table condiments or the food ladles and other things that get handled by everyone. The sad truth is that many people walk right past the washy-washy and the sanitizer station and no matter how many times NCL cleans those things, they are going to be the transfer point. Every time I hear someone cough, I cringe. Maybe the washy-washy people should say "washy-washy cover-mouth".
I did enjoy the washy-washy musical performances including the Beatles hit "Wash your hands" to the tune of "I want to hold your hand".
The specialty restaurants were on-point as were the two main dining rooms, which we enjoyed.
Cagney's common problem (as on the Escape) of mis-timing mains and apps did not occur the three times we ate there. If there was a problem it was being seated at the time of our reservation. The wine steward was very helpful.
Le Bistro was a great experience, the wait staff and maitre d' exceptional providing excellent service and 'touch'.
Four Seasons and Seven Seas both offered great quality food, prompt and attentive service.
La Cecina is a beautiful venue, probably the prettiest on board. Hidden down a stairway, it is long and not very wide, you are reminded of a dining car on the Orient Express or something from the movies. Elegant with attentive staff.
Pool side cook-outs:
I'll just say they were confusing, difficult to find a place to sit and not worth the effort.
The Champagne bar run by Jeffrey and Jerry is a fun gathering place that seems to attract interesting and outgoing people. It became our pre-dinner cocktail favorite. Interesting that the Champagne bar doesn't really sell Champagne. Ah well...
The Poolside bar, didn't appeal to us, although the bartenders were great. Seating is difficult and uncomfortable.
The Atrium bar is nice, just a different vibe than the Champagne Bar. Great for a morning bloody.
Great outdoors: Bar is great. Table service (cleaning, etc) is rather spotty with a fair amount of standing around.
Sports Bar: I'm sure there are logistical reasons the waiter can't take a drink order and vice versa, but I don't know what they are. Common complaints for the sports bar are table hogs, bridge and mahjong players taking up tables and only one sporting event on the many screens. Mahjong in particular annoyed other diners/viewers with it's incessant tile slapping. Bartenders very good. Chicken wings are great.
Theater, always cold, many people brought beach towels to wrap themselves with. I felt the seats were old and uncomfortable.
NCL does a good job of keeping the common (reception, etc) areas attractive and neat.
NCL still can't seem to figure out how to keep lounges from being "reserved" all day.
Entertainment was very good, some seats were obstructed and not marked resulting in a constant flow of people into and then out of those seats.
DJ was typical pool DJ.
Several people commented that there should have been more enrichment activities (lectures, etc) and I agree.
Wifi - ridiculously slow and unusable. If you must have wifi while at sea, on this ship I suggest you consider the unlimited package.
Daily Bulletin: Failed to list some activities, some things were not promoted at all (wine tastings for instance) and thus did not attract enough participation to take place. Our neighbor noted that Bridge was not organized or promoted, this seems to be the trend on NCL.
Ships Video of Panama Canal: We paid for the ship produced video of the Panama transit which was supposed to feature the passengers on-board. IMO, you can give this a miss. Just my opinion. Read Less