October 2016 - Norwegian Pearl to Panama Canal, Central America
Kevin Nino, the sales rep from NCL, assured me when I booked this cruise that no passport was necessary. Trusting him and his training, I plunked my money down and started planning shore excursions--two weeks before departure. As I started my online Check-In, the system stopped me at the "Travel Documents" stage--no passport. I got the sales rep on the phone--admitted he sold me the cruise using incorrect information. I cancelled, and got a full refund. The next day I showed up at the US Passport office and paid extra for expedited service. DAYUM! It was ready the next day! I got NCL back on the phone and re-booked it--with a cabin upgrade! My stewardess Campana Ritzel took excellent care of me. I really liked my inside cabin--90210--sort "man cave" with all my fishing gear and camera stuff all around. Yep. I brought a telescoping fishing rod and small tackle box. Fishing is a great way to meet folks and relieve boredom. Set goal: fish somewhere at every port-of-call. Caught a permit in Puerto Limon and catfish in Old Belize River. My days and nights were spent walking around the ship, checking out the prices for men's watches, looking at the people in the casino, leisurely lunches and for-fee dinners, looking at the people around the pool, just missing the towel folding demonstrations, shooting tons of video and stills, meeting some new cruise friends for dinner every other night, others for night drinks and deep conversation. Yeah, I checked out the library and the Card Room, where the REAL action was happening. Forget those "players" and their Texas Hold Em games in the casino compared to the stakes I saw at some of the Card Room games. No pit boss. Another goal: to avoid putting the "one pound per day" rule into effect. I managed to lose six pounds in 12 days. I ate my fill of beef--at the Moderno Churrascaria, Cagney's Steakhouse and Le Bistro, not to mention the decent prime rib and steaks in the Summer Palace MDR. The lamb was also delicious. The seafood I tried--at Lotus Garden and Summer Palace was insipid and poorly presented--the shrimp and the cod. In fact, the shrimp ceviche was so flavorless it was more like shrimp cocktail. I could NOT believe the Hot and Sour Soup--lacked anything hot and no citrus tang. Ugh! On the other hand, the Indian dishes at the Garden Buffet were uniformly excellent, including the butter chicken, biryani rice and tandoori chicken salad. Yet, the asparagus with Hollandaise sauce was a completely disaster, all congealed and solid. Everything with chocolate was delicious!
The usual culinary hits and misses were expected and delivered. The service was impeccable in every way, to the credit of the restaurant manager. Ronnie Cruz, our waiter, was very funny and quick-witted, made us smile through every course of every meal. Shore Excursions were very well-handled for the most part. Despite poor weather in two ports (Roatan and Belize City) nobody fell overboard getting on and off the tender. The highlights for me was the Pura Video Chocolate Tour and Chacchoben--most impressive Mayan ruin. The excursion around Gatun and onto Colon was FANTASTIC! Got some amazing monkey photos and actually saw my ship passing through Gatun Lock! Awesome! Loved Cartagena, and Puerto Limon.