A note to readers: Long have I struggled to invite other Reno and Sparks folks to send a manuscript and a few photos my way, to augment the Ol’ Reno Guy site. Here now is one from my li’l huckleberry friend Linda Patrucco Doerr, who just crossed from San Pedro-to-Miami via the Panama Canal, and wrote her review of the cruise. I asked her if I could use it; she acceded to that and here it is:
Panama Canal or BUST!
Norwegian Star Cruise Review
by Linda Patrucco Doerr, Reno, Nevada
This was a long-planned “bucket list” cruise and did not disappoint. The overall shipboard experience was everything we had hoped for and more. The itinerary, with multiple sea days and the Canal itself being the crown jewel, was the reason for the cruise and was thoroughly enjoyed.
We had arranged for transportation from LAX airport to San Pedro pier through NCL and this was handled very smoothly. NCL personnel greeted us in the baggage claim area and escorted us to our bus that delivered us to the NCL embarkation area. NCL embarkation staff was friendly, patient and courteous and had the process well-organized.
Once aboard we were directed to our correct deck and our Stateroom Steward “Barnard” appeared and greeted us by name and taught us how to navigate to our stateroom using the swimming fish pattern in the hallway carpet as well as the door color (blue = starboard; red = port). (See below for further cabin information.)
The night before the BIG day the Captain advised us we would be approaching the canal at 5:00 AM and entering the first lock at 7:00 AM. I was excited and couldn’t sleep so I was on deck [ships lined up for passage pictured at right] and established myself at the rail on Deck 13 at 3:00 AM and didn’t leave my spot until we completed our passage through the first set of locks. There was ample opportunity through the day to experience the rest of the locks from different perspectives as we did a “do it yourself” lunch room service (from the Garden Buffet) on our balcony and later viewed the scenery from the Deck 8 area, which was only open to passengers during canal transit. The approach to the canal in the dark was eerily beautiful as we passed tankers and cargo ships lined up waiting their turn. We were very fortunate to have an exceptionally mild 82° F day! The history of the Canal narration provided by the Captain as well as the ongoing narration through the day provided by a local expert as we passed the landmarks and through the locks was very informative and much appreciated.
[At left, approaching one of the Miraflores locks]
Our sea-days were busy with on-board activities and we thoroughly enjoyed our chosen Shore Excursions, Luxury Whale-Watching in Cabo San Lucas and Hop on Hop Off Bus Tour in Cartegena, Colombia. We were big fans of Bingo and Trivia as well as kick-back time at the pool. We found the Sugarcane Mojito Bar to be a small, quiet, out-of-the-way lounge where we were able to meet and converse with interesting fellow cruisers. Sky High was another favorite hangout although usually a little more noisy (in a fun way – think sing-alongs!). The “Behind the Scenes” excursion of the workings of the ship’s galley, laundry, stores/provisions, waste management and showroom props and dressing room areas was an especially enjoyable and memorable tour. We were impressed with the hard-working people who prepare the food, wash the dishes, and launder the sheets, towels, napkins, tablecloths, staff uniforms, passenger laundry, etc.; those who manage the proper storage of supplies and food, and those who assure that our ship is in compliance with environmental and governmental regulations in management of our water treatment and waste products.
[At the right, closer now to the gate, note gate beginning to open]
Shipboard internet was slow at best. The quality of assistance at the Internet Café was inconsistent. Our experience was that the iPhone 8 did not work well with the unlimited WiFi package. This might be a good time to unplug.
The pool area tier design provides plenty of lounges for sunbathing, but shady lounge areas were usually at a premium. A pool towel is provided for each person in your cabin and can be exchanged freely for a fresh towel with no charge at the pool. Extra towels are available, if needed, at the pool for a charge. Poolside lunch was either basic hamburgers/hot dogs from the poolside grill or we could bring our buffet plate to the available poolside tables. The poolside bar had walk-up as well as roaming waiter service.
[At left, a “welcoming committee” gunboat from the Nicaraguan navy]
We found the food to be very good in most restaurants and were very impressed with the quality of the food as well as the ambiance and service in the (complimentary) main dining rooms (Versailles and Aqua). Other complimentary options were Ginza Japanese, O’Sheehan’s Bar & Grill and the Garden Buffet – all were good. Although we were impressed with our dinner at the specialty restaurant Le Bistro, Cagney’s Steakhouse outshone them all. The food, service and ambiance were outstanding. La Cucina, the Italian specialty restaurant, was a disappointment. We found that restaurant to be totally devoid of any Italian atmosphere and we might just as well have been dining at Italian night in the Garden buffet. The food was “just OK” and our wait-staff lacked the ability to correctly pronounce the Italian dishes or to understand our order when the dishes were pronounced to them. The bare, cafeteria-style tables crammed side-by-side were uncomfortable. A few red & white checkered tablecloths, candles (even simulated) on the tables & overhead Italian music would go a long way toward creating a little ambiance. Although this was a great disappointment for a “specialty” restaurant, it did not detract from our overall enjoyment of the entirety of the cruise.
[At left, crossing Gatun Lake, 85 feet above the level of the oceans on either side, an artificial lake that provides 21 miles of passage and forms a vital element of the canal’s water-management system. When the canal was built, it was the largest man-made lake on earth.]
We were impressed by the universally friendly, hardworking and courteous staff from “Happy Happy Washie Washie” Hannah who greeted us daily at the buffet with her ever-present bottle of hand sanitizer to the line chefs, bartenders, bus personnel, janitorial staff, Cruise Director’s staff, Shore Excursion staff, Security staff, Guest Services staff, and the hardworking people who make all the behind-the-scenes magic happen.
[At left, Cartagena at sunset]
There was always some kind of entertainment in the showroom from vocalists, comedians, magicians, production shows. We especially enjoyed the comedian Brad Mastrangelo who did completely differently shows on two separate nights.
There were few children on our cruise and those we did see were well-behaved and always well-supervised.
Our cruise conditions were extremely smooth for the first 10 days to the point that we commented more than once that it didn’t even feel like we were on a ship. We became very aware we were on a ship on Day 13 as we left Cartegena and crossed the Caribbean Sea toward Miami. Although some outdoor activities had to be restricted and some passengers felt the effects, we felt fine and took advantage of the opportunity to explore areas of the ship we hadn’t seen yet such as the library and the meeting rooms and to take in a movie.
[Through the Gatun lock, the Canal’s last; beyond is seen the Atlantic Ocean.] Disembarkation was a smooth process for us as we had again booked transportation through NCL from the pier to Ft Lauderdale airport. Disembarkation is done by groups designated by colors. Since our flight was scheduled at 5 PM we were one of the last groups to disembark and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at poolside. Once our color was called it was a stress-free walk into the terminal where we claimed our luggage, cleared customs and proceeded to meet our bus to the airport. All along the way cheerful and courteous personnel were available to facilitate the process.
I would be thrilled to take this cruise again, especially at this time of year (February 1st – 15th) due to the mild temps and dry weather.
A review of the cabin…
Our Stateroom Steward “Barnard” greeted us by name upon our arrival and taught us how to navigate to our stateroom using the forward swimming fish pattern in the hallway carpet as well as the door color (blue = starboard; red = port). This was invaluable information that we relied upon multiple times each day of the cruise! He made sure our stateroom was always immaculately prepared in a timely manner and we always looked forward to his daily animal creatures! Our balcony mini-suite stateroom was very comfortable with adequate storage and closet space which included sufficient hangers as well as a safe. The coffee maker facilitated early morning coffee on the balcony. Morning room service consisting of coffee/tea with sweet rolls, etc. was also available at no extra cost. Our Stateroom Steward removed the contents of our mini-fridge at our request for our personal use. The bathroom with tub/shower enclosure as well as separate toilet enclosure was well-equipped with shower gel and shampoo, hand soap and plenty of towels that were replenished twice a day as needed. There is also a handy retractable clothesline in the tub/shower enclosure. A hairdryer was provided at the vanity area outside the bathroom. The TV provided continual “bow-cam” views on Ch. 13 and ongoing ship’s information on Ch. 12 as well as various news channels and movies.
all photographs credit Linda Doerr
Thanks, Linda! A pleasure to read and view…comment at email@example.com