Overall, the cruise was pretty much nice. Most of the shore excursions, not so much. The package price and "Five for Free" and all that foofraw was intriguing until analyzed, and then not so much. Entertainment on ship was great, ... Read More
Overall, the cruise was pretty much nice. Most of the shore excursions, not so much. The package price and "Five for Free" and all that foofraw was intriguing until analyzed, and then not so much. Entertainment on ship was great, it was clean and well-maintained and had a smiling crew. The "suite" cabin was marginally better than a standard and nowhere close to my experience with other suites.
Our reasons for choosing this particular cruise were that it was a two-week cruise, out of our home port Tampa, and visited some faraway places we can't see on a one-week from home. For the price, considering even the "Free at Sea", "Distinctive Voyages" and other so-called freebies, there were equivalent options, but not from our home port. So, we overpaid a bit for that advantage.
I'm bothering to review mostly because the shore excursions left a lot to be desired. The cruise itself - on shipboard - was fine and certainly up to par. The shore excursions and package deals, not so much.If you book a similar cruise, be careful of those to items. The mini-suite, not so much.
Marketing Spin – We first signed on for this cruise based on the nearly all-inclusive nature of the offering, what with “Free at Sea” freebies and “Distinctive Voyages” and such. 120 days before departure, NCL requires final full payment (… ya gotta love how cruise lines have us over a barrel). It was after that – and this is on us – that we finally looked at the total package and compared this NCL trip with similar trips from HAL and RC. Theirs were a la carte for shore excursions subsidies, wifi, phone, beverage packs and such. We found out the other cruise prices were similar to lower, but selectable instead of a fixed package. An example: the beverage package, one of an oft-chosen (including us) “free” option in NCL’s marketing package.
Turned out that NCL charges for the tips for the BevPak, though the drinks are included. If you calculate out the tips, it turns out to be about the equivalent of spending $88/day on drinks. Heavy drinkers – probably a deal. Casual drinks/sodas, not so much.
We also got subsidies on NCL shore excursions – thereby encouraging us to book everything through the ship. Which we did – to mixed results. Some of them turned out to be net-$0 to us. However, as noted above, that subsidy seemed to be built in to the overall cruise cost.
Moral: No matter how enticing the marketing freebies seem, NCL – and other lines, for that matter – don’t give nothin’ away.
Embarkation - A disaster. Worst embark in my home port of Tampa that I've ever seen. An entry line at noon that wound around and down the block. People couldn't figure out how reiieve themselfves of bags and get in line too. Once into reception, it was quick.
I’ve seen people take their own 24-packs of water onto their cruises. Not here. NCL security confiscated all my Bai flavored waters. We mused over where they went after we were at sea.
Debarkation - Also a disaster. We had 2 1/4 bags each and had planned/rehearsed how to do a “walk-off” departure with the required one hand free (for the escalator, I guess). In spite of this my partner and I were shunted onto an elevator-only line along with all people with canes or wheelchairs. And additional wheelchairs always went to the front of the line. It took us an hour from the time we hit shore until we got down the one floor to passport and luggage.
On board the Norwegian Pearl, we happily found that there indeed was a tennis court. And we played with new tennis friends on every sea day to our great enjoyment. Crew help getting the nets/equipment available to play was spotty. They also have two pairs of bowling lanes. Before you get visions of keeping your average up, the “house” balls were limited. More important, as a 40-year bowler, I was told that I couldn’t do anything to the surface or the left shoe so that one could slide on release of the ball. A bowler could get badly hurt expecting to be able to slide on the final step - and suddenly stopping like on a rubber mat. And $7/game – not a free activity.
We enjoyed the trivia contests, except for the fact that there were no real prizes for winning – not even an NCL pin (like HAL does). We did a ring toss context in a lounge. Problem there was that there were no rules and the crewman seemed to make them up as we went along in an elimination competition. Again, no real prize, so I guess it didn’t matter.
Garden Café (equivalent of HAL’s Lido) – Wide selection, ready at hand. Often tepid to cool by the time you gather it all up and find an empty table somewhere within range of walking back multiple times to the service lines. Made me long for the old days when you could use a cafeteria tray instead of multiple trips. I made us stop eating breakfast here because of always having cold toast, muffins, pancakes, and eggs off of the serving lines. Instead, we went to O’Sheehan’s Irish pub restaurant, no extra charge, for most breakfasts and many lunches. Very convenient, uncrowded, generally warm and tasty food.
Lotus Garden, no charge, oriental foods. Very good, very tasty. My favorite although my partner doesn’t have my taste for all foods oriental.
Both main dining rooms – generally good service, fine restaurant style and atmosphere. What was wanting was tasty, interesting dishes. Everything was pleasant enough, just not eye-widening at all. We were doing a two-week cruise and there never was lobster! Are ships giving up on this? It used to be a highlight. We did get a record-setting prime rib on our last night! It was the thinnest-sliced prime rib dinner I’ve ever seen. I can say this, it was thicker than bologna. Maybe.
Dress code of long pants for men and no tank-tops, tees, was mentioned in the Summer Palace MDR the first night, then, judging from what I saw, never brought up again subsequently. The Indigo MDR apparently did not have the same code. In later nights, I saw lots of “Drink Beer” type tees in both MDRs.
Shore Excursions, all booked through NCL and with $50/person subsidy, part of our package:
Grand Cayman – Reef & Wreck Snorkel.
Large roomy boat, but few places to sit down to put gear on. (We brought our own snorkel packs.) As a long-time diver in younger years, Caymans were nirvana. Unfortunately, our boat stayed nearby in the harbor. The wreck was large and interesting, with few fish. The “reef” spot was all black and gray dead reef. A quarter mile away were a number of spots with living reefs and more fish, but I guess we were saving fuel cost. Without the shorex subsidy, we’d’ve booked on our own with a smaller boat that would go out to “real” reef. Conclusion: Mediocre.
Jamaica – Bobsled Jamaica and Zipline.
Only a mile from the dock and in the hills. The Good and the Bad. We took a high sit-on tram to the top of the mountain. Then got in line for the zip line. All five traverses of it. They had twelve, but were only using five on our day. It was pleasant, but with long lines at switchovers. Then on to the dry-track bobsled run. Except the wait was two hours. So we had the highlight of this shorex by buying our own lunch in the mountaintop and building-top restaurant. Fantastic views down the mountain and toward our cruise liner harbor. Even better with the view tower above the lunch spot. Once back to the bobsled run, the wait was now three hours. So, we bailed. Conclusion: Being worth it is being generous. Glad we didn’t pay the full $139 each.
Santa Marta, Colombia – Quebrada Valencia Eco-Expedition.
You understand when a shorex is described as “expedition” or “adventure” that it’s not the literal use of the term? The online description showed a beautiful view down a mountain valley. Not so much. Never did see that. Did get our shoes soaked by unexpectedly having to walk through a half-foot deep, 15-foot wide creek, SIX times on the way to seeing a little mountain waterfall. Where one could swim, if so inclined. Or wade, since our shoes were already water-logged. Conclusion: Full of water.
Cartagena, Colombia – Exclusive Hop-on, Hop-off Bus.
Took us around town and to the entry into old Cartagena. And back to the ship. Had no need to on-off since there was only one stop for old town. Got an including staring tour upon walk into old town district. Fifty bucks list price; zero with our subsidy. Worth the $50. Old Cartagena was one of the highlights of our shore diversions. Conclusion: One way or another, get into old town.
Panama Canal – on-board viewing
A second highlight of the trip. The Pearl goes into the first locks of the canal and then allows tenders to go ashore. Shore visitors re-connect with the Pearl later in the day when it’s gone back out of the canal and docked in Colon, Panama. Before that, seeing the locks in action, with another huge ship 100 feet away, is truly fascinating. No cost benefit and entertainment for this cruise. (Actually, based on info given us, we each probably paid about $200 of our cruise cost to Panama Canal Authority.)
Panama – Shape of Panama bus tour
We took advantage of the shore access tender and caught a shorex bus which took us from the Caribbean side locks down a super-highway to the Pacific shore in Panama City. Another highlight of the trip. A bus tour of 2mil-person PCity; tons of skyscrapers, lots to see; the Pacific Ocean; and then a walking tour of Old Panama City. A comfortable major highway trip back to the ship in Colon. Another highlight and worthwhile shorex.
Puerto Limon, Costa Rica – Aerial Tram & Rainforest Adventure.
There it is again, an “adventure.” Well, not so much. Two hours down a two-lane highway and then into a for-profit eco park “adjacent to a national park.” A lot of hoopla for flora and fauna. The tram ride was about an hour with a “naturalist” on board with a green laser point to show us the forest and animals. We did not see the grand mountain view and closed gondola that was in the shorex marketing materials online. We did see a lot of leaves. We saw one mountain far off on the horizon. We saw one spider. (Checkmark: fauna?) The included meal in the restaurant was tasty and nice. The two-plus hour ride back down the highway was cluttered with construction stops and pauses. We got to the ship a few minutes before departure. Conclusion: If you pay the whole $149, I hope you’re an optimist. We paid $99, and I’d like to time travel that decision.
Santo Tomas de Castillo, Guatemala – Livingston Explorer
Fortunately, our subsidized cost for this was $0 (instead of $50). You ride an open “panga” outboard up the coast for an hour to Livingston, a land-locked town. Apparently part of the fun is to sit in open sitting and get beat up by the pounding bow as it races through the waves. I feared for my fillings. The town itself is an interesting view of lives and neighborhood in a remote city. I don’t know what our 45-minute guided perambulation through town was supposed to show us. We almost missed the boat back to the Pearl when our panga was inexplicably ready to go from a different dock and time then our guide told us. But as our guide said at the start when he “lost” two of us, “I guess it’s going to be one of those kinds of days.” Conclusion: Visit Livingston, but not in a panga.
Harvest Caye, Belize – Private Island for NCL. Monkey River Eco tour
I think I’ve figured this one out. Other cruise lines do this, it’s not just NCL. Buy an island and make it a playground for just your ship for the day. Declare that it’s on shore, so even though it’s all NCL and you can use your passcard to pay for things, it’s all separate charges. If you have the BevPak, you have to pay for drinks on the island. NCL recreation there, you pay. Equipment, you rent.
We took a shorex that went down a river. Another panga-type boat beating on top of the waves for an hour to get us down to the Monkey River entrance. Our guide then pointed out lots of bird species – I think, because his Belizean English was almost incomprehensible to me and others – and a couple of monkeys. Half the boat was open and presented excellent sunburn options. On the return, he also took us to his house which, unsurprisingly, had items and food for sale. (Most of these kinds of trips have some souvenir/rest stop side trip that will result in compensation to the guide.) Then, a wave-pounding trip back to the ship. Conclusion: Our subsidized net of $49 would have been too much.
Costa Maya, Mexico – Beach Power Snorkel. Well, not really.
Not the provider’s fault, the weather did not cooperate. We were offered a conversion to a “beach recline and stare” with the same provider, since he wanted to hold on to at least some of our money. It was an enjoyable couple of hours lazing around, mostly because we had free drinks and no crowds.
So, a ship’s excursion in all nine ports with mixed-to-mediocre results.
Altogether, an average cruise. We had good times and good days, but much of that was due to our deciding to roll with (sorry) things. We won't buy again based on freebies and marketing. And as far as this cruise and "wouldn't change a thing" thoughts? Not so much! Read Less