15 Night Panama Canal Eastbound (Los Angeles To Miami) Sail Date: April 20, 2014 Ship: Norwegian Star Cabin Type: Inside Traveled As: Singles/Friends Reviewed: 2 years ago
I had wanted to traverse the Panama Canal since I was a child, when my grandparents had playing cards showing the canal being built, so this cruise was ideal. Plus it had the added bonus of having 2 more cruises added on afterwards, totalling 38 nights, and I hadn't been to any of the ports other than LA. Initially I was travelling solo but a friend decided to go too and then married friends booked also. The Mexican Riviera was good with a wide range of things and places to visit. Costa Rica - just beautiful and then the Panama Canal transit. This took all day and was incredible - far better than I imagined, with just so much to see. Cartagena was amazing - definitely a place to add to the Bucket List. I didn't want to leave Key West - such an exciting place. I would have loved to be there at night! I had never wanted to visit Miami but I'm so glad I've been there, as it's an amazing city. The best part of this cruise is that I didn't have to leave the ship in Miami! For more information see individual ports details below.
Food and Dining
5 out of 5
A wide selection of food available from buffet, room service, pool side BBQ to 5 star dining in speciality restaurants
5 out of 5
There was certainly a lot to do on board every day which was good for sea days. Dance classes, art auctions, fruit and ice carving, movies, pool side games and entertainment as well as a variety of things happening in the theatre.
The entertainment crew headed by Iain Bagshaw with Everton were unbelievable. The shows overnight were great. Tyler Bryce http://www.tylerbryce.com,
"Oh what a night" with George Solomon - a Frankie Valli tribute show and many more. We went to both shows on several occasions - they were that good! Also Broadway production type shows. Don't forget the White Nights party - held once on each cruise. Try and take something white to wear even if it's only a t-shirt and pants. It starts around the Atrium and continues in bars and on deck. A great night of singing and dancing.
Service and Staff
5 out of 5
Anton St Rose was the best member of staff as far as I was concerned. He served us almost every day on the pool deck and made us laugh all the time. Such a likeable and funny man! His nickname was Stevie....no prizes for guessing why. He did wonderful impersonations! My cabin steward was great too - always there to help.
5 out of 5
The Star was built for European use and the pool area needed a bit more shaded area for this cruise. Make sure you get onto the deck early on hot days. The decor needed updating but I understand it has now been refurbished.
Cabin / Stateroom
5 out of 5
I book interior cabins because I like the fact it's nice and dark. Also as a solo traveller you pay a hefty single supplement so it's the best option for me. Occasionally you do get a deal, but not that often. I've had them in the Mediterranean before but on this cruise I more or less paid for the second person in the cabin. I like deck 9 midships and this is where my cabin was.
We went ashore by tender on a very hot and humid day. There's plenty to do around the harbour with beach and swimming tours available at the quay. There's a good souvenir market close by where they have a large variety of silver jewellery, T-shirts, bags etc. Well worth a visit. There are lots of restaurants, cafes and bars around the harbour to choose from.
My favourite port on the Mexican Riviera. A group of us shared a van into the town as far as the Church of Our Lady of Guadaloupe, which is beautiful. The promenade was lined with artists selling their wares - we made our way back to the ship along the foreshore. Look out for the great sculptures on the way back to the ship on this route. There were a lot of frigate birds flying around one statue. Beside the cruise terminal is a great open air market offering a wide range of good quality shoes, clothes, souvenirs etc.
Get a cab into the old town - about 10 minutes from the beach. Make sure you ask the driver the fare before you leave! Theres a lovely Mexican church with a beautiful painted interior which is most unusual. Also a lovely shaded square in the centre of the town. At the beach there are plenty of bars and cafe's also a selection of shops. I went back to the ship for lunch then back to the beach for a swim.
My least favourite stop on the rIviera, however it was interesting. I did the ships tour to the Mayan ruins and Tapachula which included the museum. That was interesting but the ruins were a bit disappointing, despite the fact it is rumoured that's where the Mayan Calendar was found. I did meet some local gorgeous children there who offered me fresh cacao, which I'd never seen or tasted before.
Costa Rica is the most beautiful country and i'm so glad I did the full day tour into the high country to a coffee plantation. It was so hot and humid on the coast, so the cool interior was a welcome change. We had several stops on the way including a great shop with an amazing painted exterior, covered in paintings of local birds, traditional buildings and carts. The tour of the coffee plantation was really interesting and included a lovely lunch of local food, plus the chance to taste all of the different types of coffee they sold. Just make sure to buy some to take home. A note to Aussies - you can bring it back. Just make sure you declare it though.
If you want a good view entering the lock gates go to the bow early - I was there at 5.30am and I wasn't in the front row! I did however eventually manage it. Make sure you have your hat, sunscreen, camera, spare memory cards and battery ( I flattened mine twice!), water and maybe a shirt with a collar. I stayed in the bow until we reached the lake, then I found places in the shade for a while. 2014 was the 100th year since the canal opened so there were special celebrations going on. The new locks should be open in 2016 I think, which will accommodate much larger ships. We scraped the side of the lock gates several times, so it's not very wide! Watching the ships in front of you go through is really amazing. Each ship is allocated a special time to make the transit so it's a finely tuned process, and each ship must enter the locks at the correct time. I never tired of watching the locks fill or empty and then the gates opening. I would do it again in a flash......
I booked a tour with a local company - Dora de Zubiria http://www.cartagenatour.com and they were fabulous. Four of us did the tour and we had a driver and guide. We were only in port for a short day so had a 4 hour tour of this amazing city. Starting at the Convent of Santa Cruz which is on the highest hill, we were able to see the whole city, including where the ship was. We had a short stop at the Castillo de San Filipe de Barajas, a huge fortress built in the 16th century. Then on to markets before arriving at the Old Town. We had a walking tour here which was brilliant. The buildings are all painted in amazing colours and bougainvillea flows over walls adding to the splendour. You can take a horse drawn carriage tour here. We went in a number of buildings and finished on the top of the wall that surrounds the city.
Known as the Conch Republic, make sure to be on deck to watch the ship arrive at Key West - a great view. The quay is right in the centre of the town and everything is within easy walking distance and the aroma of BBQ-ing seafood permeates the air most of the day. Take the trolley bus tour around the island to get a good overview. I got off at the Key Lime Shoppe for Key Lime pie and coffee. This is where Key Lime Pie was created so it's a must. I also visited Jimmy Buffets Margaritaville bar and cafe and the Little White House where US Presidents have holidayed over the years. Also theres Kelly's Caribbean Bar owned by Kelly McGillis from "Top Gun". There are beautiful clapboard houses all over the island with beautiful gardens. Make sure to try the conch fritters whilst you're there.
Take the Big Bus to get a really good tour of this great city. You pick it up near the shopping mall at the end of the quay. Get off in Little Havana and get an ice cream at the Cuban Ice Cream Shop then cross the road to watch the local men play dominos and chess in the park. It's a great area to walk around for a while. Back in the centre of the city you cross the bridge to South Beach where the worlds largest collection of Art Deco buildings are. This is one of my favourite types of architecture so I loved it there - they are all well preserved. The Star left the city at sunset and I took some great pictures from the stern - I was amazed how few people were on deck. It was the perfect end to a great day.
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