Norwegian Pearl Cruise Review to Panama Canal, Central America

7+ cruises


Helpful Votes

3 out of 5

An "OK" cruise to all the right places.

Sail Date: November 19, 2015

Reviewed: 10 months ago

Traveled As: Couple

Room Type: Balcony

We took an 11 day cruise out of Miami to the Panama Canal. It was on our bucket list and it was well worth visiting. The shore excursions from Panama's Gatan Lake are only available from NCL and it was the only NCL shore excursion that we felt was worthwhile.  We took 2 other NCL shore excursions- one was fair and the other was not good at all. 

The cruise ship (The Pearl) was large (2400 passengers) but except for the embarkation and disembarking, we did not really notice the "crowds".

The specialty restaurants were generally not worth the premium, except for Cagney's steak house - that was excellent - we should have dined there 2 or 3 times.

Our stateroom (Balcony-GUAR) was very nice.  The service from the room steward helped add to the ambience of the stateroom. We thought the original cost was a bit high, but this was to be our special Thanksgiving vacation. However the NCL website was selling the same staterooms for almost 50% less the week before the cruise departed.  Even Mini-suites were selling for less than we paid.  When I inquired about an upgrade, had to go through NCL, and NCL was not offering any consideration. They said I would have to cancel my current reservation (at a penalty) and then re-book to get the new rate.  NET COST INCREASE! 

The gratuities and the daily service charges (which were increased this year!)  have become a hefty surcharge to the cost of a cruise. We found that the bartenders and the room steward fully earned their gratuities.  The dining room staff and the table waiters in the lounges gave only fair to often very poor service. (However the hostess in the Garden Palace Dining room was outstanding!)

Overall, NCL would not be my first choice on a future cruise.  Two of the enticements (free premium specialty dinners-you still pay the gratuities, free beverages-you still pay the gratuities) might make a cruise appealing if it were going to the right places, but I would do a lot of comparisons between several alternative cruise lines before choosing NCL.  I would definitely choose United Cruise Lines shore excursions over NCL's.  United's were better, with fewer people, more informative, and generally a bit lower in price.  Definitely better value.

Despite a few disappointments, overall, we had a good time.  

Embarkation and Disembarkation
Sign in process was well organized. However, we waited a long time for the ship to "open", The crowds moved slowly, and the buffet (for lunch) was extremely crowded.
Ship Quality
Destinations and Excursions
Great destinations, but NCL shore excursions were not great and overpriced. shore excursions were great!
Onboard Activities
Fitness center was very well outfitted with exercise machines and offered classes on days at sea. Lounges were nice and available for afternoon relaxation. Casino was spacious, but games were only for the serious gamblers.
The "Jersey Boys" at the start of the cruise and the 3 Diva's at the end were great. Lounge acts were great. Other acts were just ok.
Service and Staff
Bartenders and room steward and Summer Palace Dining room hostess were outstanding. Dining room service and lounge service was poor.
Food and Dining
Miami, Florida
Cartagena, Colombia
The United Cruise line's shore excursion of the old city was very informative and interesting.
Cruise Gatun Lake And Panama Canal
Colon, Panama
Puerto Limon, Costa Rica
The NCL shore excursion to the chocolate factory was a bust- just a stop at a forest to see trees and shrubs, and a small demonstration to see fudge made by natives.
Coxen Hole, Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras
Went swimming with the dolphins. Arrange it on your own, or through one of the agencies. A great experience.
Belize City, Belize
An informative trip to Mayan ruins.
Costa Maya (Mahahual), Mexico
Our second tour of ancient Mayan ruins with a tour guide whose family once owned the property. GREAT arrangement by United Cruises!


Cagney's Steak House is the only specialty restaurant that exceeded our expectations.
The Hot Tubs are nice for relaxation on days at sea.
The buffet is usually a mad-house at meal time. Even with mediocre service at times, the Summer Palace is a better place to take breakfast and dinner.

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