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Norwegian Pearl Cruise Review to Panama Canal, Central America

Cruises: 2-3 cruises
Review: 1
Helpful Votes: 16

Overall rating:

4.4 out of 5
Norwegian Pearl

11 Night Panama Canal - Partial Transit (Miami Roundtrip)

Sail date: December 23, 2019

Ship: Norwegian Pearl

Cabin type: Balcony

Cabin number: 9606

Traveled as: Family (older children)

Reviewed: 2 years ago

Review summary

Overall we were really impressed with NCL staff and operations. Disembarking and shore excursions need some work. I enjoyed Cartagena, Panama, Puerto Limon and Roatan as "real places" more than Harvest Caye and Costa Maya which were pretty much cruise experiences on land, so it depends on what you are looking for.

Embarkation

5 out of 5
Excellent. We needed wheelchair assistance and it was provided right away. We met our the first of many amazing crew members, Norman, who provided many helpful insights before we even started our cruise.

Ship experiences

Food and Dining

4 out of 5
Quality of service was excellent, with the exception of the availability of times for booking. We had some pre-paid specialty meals, but even booking a month or more before the cruise found that we could not get a time for one of the restaurants at all and had to eat at some less optimal times/days - sometimes 5:30 or 9:30 was all that was available. Quality and variety of food was good, except, ironically, they seemed to run out of tropical fruits and berries (no more bananas or pineapple) after a few days. Melons were not always ripe and that was all that was left toward the end.

Onboard Activities

4 out of 5
We used the fitness center and the pool/hot tub and golf nets. We tried to do rock climbing, but it had very limited hours, sport court was always being used by the same group of 10 guys playing basketball, shuffleboard was also not available whenever we tried. Hot tubs were always really full, but we did use them once or twice. Pools are really nice - they use filtered sea water, so it's just like swimming in the ocean. Nice to have an adults only pool - much better water quality than the kids pool.

Entertainment

4 out of 5
We went to one really great show (musical impersonators) and one that was a good performer, but the "show" part of that one seemed a little underwhelming. Don't miss the crew talent show - you get to know these people over the course of the cruise and it was great to see that. This was a longer cruise, so they repeated some of the performances. Theater is really large and well designed for viewing - was never full.

Children's Programs

We did not have younger children with us and our teen daughter did not go to the teen club. Would be great to have more of an incentive to try this at the beginning of the cruise as she might have enjoyed it, but was hesitant to go by herself.

Service and Staff

5 out of 5
We were constantly impressed by the service people we met. We know these are not easy jobs in a challenging environment and schedule. Every single crew member we encountered really seemed to go above and beyond and spoke highly of their captain, crew and company.

Ship Quality

5 out of 5
Washy, washy, happy, happy - says it all about the cleanliness. They are relentless (happily so) about cleaning and sanitizing for ship safety. Was easy to figure out and get around everywhere, some reasonable walking for one of our party with limited mobility, but nothing that seemed too daunting. Sometimes those main public corridors get crowded. Only bad part was the smoke from the casino that permeated everything from that area into the theater. Also, you pretty much have to walk through there to get to the theater (for shows, gathering for shore excursions, etc.)

Cabin / Stateroom

5 out of 5
Of course, space is at a premium in cabins, but it was a good layout (we had a balcony which we definitely enjoyed). We were mid-ship, just a few doors from elevators and stairs which was super convenient to everything. One floor down to O'Sheehans, one more to the main lobby. Despite being so close to the elevators and lobby areas, we never had any noise or traffic issues. Highly recommend this location.

Ship tip

Find out about and book your specialty restaurants as soon as they open.

Ports of call

Miami, Florida

4 out of 5
Not enough info to rate. We got in the day before, so basically we had dinner and left the next day. We also had a piece of luggage that didn't make it, so we were pretty busy trying to track that and had to wait around for it to arrive, so we couldn't really explore.

Cartagena, Colombia

5 out of 5
Beautiful ancient city. We had limited time and mobility, so we just did the "excursion" that is a boat (it said "catamaran" but was just a tourist ferry boat) from the ship port to the walled city and self toured from there. It was very hot, which was an adjustment from winter. Visited the Juan Valdez cafe, Bolivar Plaza and walked the central city photographing this beautiful city.

Panama Canal (Cruise Into Canal)

5 out of 5
The experience of the canal locks was so interesting to me. Unfortunately, it started pouring rain just as we were going through, so I didn't get quite the up close views I had hoped for, but this is not the fault of the ship ;-)

Colon, Panama

4 out of 5
The idea of our excursion was to go from the locks through to the Pacific side (since this was a partial transit cruise). Where else can you transit an entire country and continent in an hour's drive? This was a bus ride and we did reach our goal and there were many great things on the tour, but just a few things that kept it from being excellent. We visited the Miraflores Locks visitor center - which was excellent, but we only had one hour there which was not enough time - after the "12 minute" movie - that really took 30 minutes after you get into the museum, the theater, wait for it to start, etc. then you have only 30 minutes for 4 floors of exhibits and the viewing platform. The visit to the Amador Causeway was interesting, but it basically takes you to a parking lot at the end with a big tourist trap shopping plaza. Views of the city skyline were totally blocked here by wires, boats, etc. There were a lot of really beautiful stops they could have made on the causeway, but they probably get a kickback from the shopping. Snack provided was a pretty lame gummy Subway sandwich - better than nothing since it was a long day, but did I come all the way to Panama to eat at Subway? Our tour guide (her name started with an S ? was excellent in the information she provided and she was super helpful and personable). With the ship variables (going through the canal, etc.) we really felt like we needed to do the cruiseline provided excursions here.

Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

4 out of 5
We did an outside excursion (tour provider we found through TripAdvisor) which was a great choice given that we wanted an overall view of the area and visited 2 National Parks (Tortuguero and Cahuita). Just our bad luck that it poured rain (it's a rain forest, after all...) so our views were literally clouded by that experience. Puerto Limon is a pretty industrial port town, so getting out of it was definitely a good choice. We did end up having a really great lunch at a restaurant high on the hill above town that our tour guide took us too and wonderful seafood soup there with beautiful views and the sun even came out a little.

Harvest Caye, Belize

4 out of 5
Great if you want a beach break and the weather is nice. If you have them, you can spend your shore credits on locker rentals, and things like SUP or kayaks (pedal boats not recommended ;-). The ziplines here were super expensive and pretty limited, so we did not do them. Again, weather was a factor - it poured in the am at disembarkation time, so we waited. It did clear and the bonus was that it was not crowded at all. We had booked a clamshell which probably wasn't worth it in the end because there were so few people there that getting a spot was not an issue. Nice swimming beach and splash park. Pool was big and beautiful. You have to pay for the food, but our margarita with chips and guacamole was excellent (if not a great "deal").

Coxen Hole, Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras

5 out of 5
Beautiful island I would definitely visit again. Our teen daughter booked this excursion through Viator with Roatan Anderson Tours - her dream day of doing everything - we ziplined, rode horses into the ocean, snorkeled, saw animals (including her ultimate of holding a sloth), visited a chocolate factory (and a recycled art co-op shop) and probably somethings I'm forgetting. Beautiful setting, but also highlighted the environmental costs of tourism as we snorkeled with pieces of plastic floating around us and saw a lot of problems with trash in the ocean and elsewhere here. Wonderful experiences with extremely friendly and helpful islanders. An intriguing place to come back to.

Costa Maya (Mahahual), Mexico

3 out of 5
We booked the Lost Mayan Kingdom excursion which was great for being in zipline and waterslide heaven. Could we have booked this outside our cruiseline for less? It's walking distance from the port - or probably some other shuttle or cheap taxi. Great if you are really into the ziplines and slides - they were really awesome! The pool area was super crowded and small. They have a nice water park / splash zone for little kids only. The food here was buffet only (NO other food available) and the price was $25 per adult, $15 for kids. We looked, but did not get it - it just a taco bar (rice, beans, a bit of meat and salsa) - value of less than $10. Really inefficient set-up - you have to wait in different lines for drinks from food. Frozen Pina colada from a bottle was $7 - mostly ice. It was too long of a day to go without food for our daughter, so she got the buffet, but got all sorts of hassle from the guy running it about going though only once, where she could sit so he could watch what she got. She's a vegetarian, so she paid $15 for beans, rice and a churro. We have travelled to Mexico and seen Mayan sites, etc. so were not interested in that this time, but I'm not sure what else you do here - there's really not anything but tourist shops in the "town", so maybe people come here to drink or just stay on the ship if the weather is good?

Disembarkation

1 out of 5
Every time we got off the ship for a shore excursion (booked through Norwegian) and at the final disembarkation, it was really clear they need to do some work on this. For shore excursions, they had everyone meet in the theater and after you wait there with really confusing (or no) information, they send you to another floor to wait in another line, then you often wait again after getting to the tour bus/guide. Usually well over an hour till the tour starts. Husband and his mom (with mobility issues) waited in a 90 degree parking lot for a sub standard tour bus after they realized they didn't have enough space on the first bus. On the final day, we planned to self-embark (luggage) but since we still needed wheelchair assistance, they went down at the appointed time of disembarkation and had to wait almost an hour and a half for a wheelchair (said to come 15 minutes before your time). I left on my own since we decided to rent a car to drive to Ft. Lauderdale for our flights and even my process of getting off the ship took over 2 hours of waiting in line after line after line - one of the area was chilled like a meat locker and was just a warehouse. They are building a new port facility, but this whole process needs to be better thought out. This is not the final memory you want people to have.
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