Sunday, February 19, 2017

Norwegian Jewel Panama Canal Cruise Review

Norwegian Jewel Panama Canal Cruise Review
February 19-March 4, 2017
Just the Facts:
Ship: Norwegian Jewel
Captain: Pelle Fredriksson
Cruise Director:  Iain
Ports: Miami - Cartagena - Panama Canal Transit - Puntarenas - Corinto -
Puerto Quetzal - Acapulco - Cabo San Lucas - Los Angeles (San Pedro)

This cruise is the forth of five consecutive cruises for me.  This is my 6th Norwegian cruise and first one in many years, my first time on the Norwegian Jewel, and 126th cruise overall.  I am cruising as a solo.

Sunday / Embarkation / February 19th / Day 1

Tsar's Palace Dining Room
I left the Carnival Vista my cruise home for eight days about 9:50 am and walked over two berths and around a construction area to the Norwegian Jewel dock arriving outside the Terminal about 10:15 am.  I dropped my large bag with a porter ($3 tip) and took my carry-on and backpack with me.  They opened the terminal about 10:45 and I proceeding through security and check-in was a breeze.  However there was a long hour + wait before we could board the ship.  I was an early zone and boarded about  I made it to my cabin and dropped my bags then proceeded to the Garden Cafe for the lunch buffet.  First impression with the food is very good.  I fixed two plates: one with a variety of Asian Foods from a Mongolian Grill station and the Steak from the carving station.  The Salad Bar looked good as did the Pastry area.  I’m sure that I will find my buffet favorites and other food venues during the cruise.  My cabin, located aft on deck 11, is very spacious with nice decor and wood trim.  I set up my cabin with my cruise hack items and what clothing I did have.  This being a new ship to me I reviewed the Freestyle Daily, Deck Plan, and other information carefully.  Soon my luggage was delivered so I finished cabin set up and I have ample storage, I am very pleased with the cabin.  I did my first walk about and made a call home from upper decks while I have phone service in Miami, but soon was interrupted by the announcements for Boat Drill set to begin at 4:15 pm.  I continued my tour but headed towards my muster station located in the Tsar Palace MDR on deck 6 aft.  I really like the decor of this room.  Following the drill I returned to the cabin and prepared some laundry for the ‘Press Only’ special, purchase the unlimited internet package (expensive), and reviewed the dining options.  With ‘Freestyle’  dining we do not have a set time or dining room so learning this system will be different.  I do have the UBP Unlimited Beverage Package as a bonus to the cruise fare so it will be interesting to see how that works over the next 14 days. I met friends for cocktails in the Shakers Martini Bar on deck 6, then we proceeded to Tsar’s Palace for dinner.  The beautiful room and elegant tablecloths were very refreshing compared to what I have experienced the past three cruises,  For dinner I ordered the New England Crab Cake, a Green Salad, the Prime Rib and Sliced Pork Loin entrees. For dessert I enjoyed the Pistachio Crème Brûlée and the Cherries Jubilee.  It was a great meal.  The primary entertainment tonight is the Welcome Show, but it didn’t fit into my freestyle schedule so didn’t attend…it did seem to be a bigger show than other lines.  I personally retired to the cabin soon after dinner.  As I perused the TV channels I noticed that they have both Fox News Channel and MSNBC as news options, something not seen on Carnival…a nice variety.  It was a interesting day of discovery on board the NCL Jewel.

Monday / Sea Day / February 20th / Day 2
O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill
Smooth seas overnight.  I woke at 4:00 am so did some internet work and worked on this review for a few hours before sleeping again.  I was lucky to wake about 9:00 am in time for a proper breakfast in the Tsar’s Palace MDR.  I ran into a couple I knew so we shared a table.  I ordered an Eggs Benedict breakfast exact items as yesterdays on the Vista for comparison.  The wonderful crisp tablecloths let me know that this would be a superior breakfast irregardless of the food.  I met my cabin steward Maggie this morning, she took the press-only special laundry she left last night.Time to explore the ship and I ended up out most of the day.  I dropped a form off at the Future Cruise Desk, NCL’s is a great concept, a difference is that you receive OBC for the cruise you are currently sailing then the voucher will cover any future deposit in full. So there will be NCL cruises in my future.  I then went out on boat deck to get a coke and air, but alas NCL has Pepsi so I got two Ginger Ales and sat at a table to drink one and I was going to continue to explore with the other.  I ended up enjoying my table location, the sea air, texting with the DW back home, and viewing the Carnival Splendor that has been sailing along side of us all day. So it's now mojito time. Then a Caribbean band performed and the old folks began dancing away…great people watching.  Mojito time again. A German gentleman sat with me to eat his BBQ that gave me the opportunity to get a nice plate of grilled chicken and a grilled pork chop for my lunch.  Good food and for dessert I allowed the cocktail server to pick a cocktail of his choice and he brought a Mudslide.  Nice...this UBP (unlimited beverage package) may work just fine.  So after a nice day by the pool I had a brief nap in my nice dark cabin before another walk about the ship.  I wanted to checkout O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill on deck 8, it’s a great place.  They have  a nice bar and a nice limited comfort food menu.  I had a couple of Pilsner Urquell beers and an order of Mozzarella Sticks.  Yes hot appetizers at the bar.  At 7:00 pm I went to the Stardust Theater for Showtime featuring singer Jeri Sager a former Broadway performer.  Her show featured various Broadway hits and was very entertaining.  After dinner I met friends in Fyzz a nice little show venue on deck 7 then went to dinner at Tsar’s Palace.  There was no wait at all and it was only 8:15 the normal time for late seating on most cruise lines. We may have a plan for the rest of the cruise.  Dinner was good, I ordered:  Fried Brie Wedges, Creamy Mushroom Soup, and the Yankee Pot Roast entree.  For dessert I ordered the Creme Carmel from the menu and a Mudslide from the bar.  It was a fun spontaneous day on the Norwegian Jewel.

Tuesday  /  Sea Day  /  February 21st / Day 3
NCL Jewel Pool Deck
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well.  I went up one deck to ‘The Great Outdoors’ food area where in the mornings they have breakfast items.  Very easy for me as it’s directly above my cabin.  I enjoyed a light breakfast as sat out on the aft rail and enjoyed the sun and wake of the ship.  Afterward I went down on pool deck and got a table in the shade..  I took my Tervis tumbler and started with ginger ale just as yesterday.  I was able to message the DW back at home on the iPhone and did some people watching.  All friends eventually found me so we had a good visit.  I tried to order a Hugo Spritzer a perfect poolside drink and they made a valiant attempt, but a bit short.  I was saved by Louis a bar server who had previously worked on MSC.  Woo Hoo perfect drinks for all.  I again had the BBQ from the grill.  Today it was Chicken and Sirloin Steaks with Paella and a Corn Relish.  Very Good.  The same Caribbean band performed a set but not as many dancers today.  It was another relaxing day by the pool but still deserving of a nap back in the cabin in afternoon.  Friends and I met in O’Sheehan’s at 6:00 for drinks.  I also had some tasty Chicken Wings.  About 7:10 we went down to Tsar’s Palace for dinner…seated almost strait away.  I ordered: Fried Scallops, Green Salad, Veal Bratwurst, Sliced Sirloin Steak, and Apple Pie for dessert.  I also had a Bushwacker as a dessert cocktail.  Very nice service on NCL…very pleased.  We even had time to catch the 9:00 feature show, but I retired to review my private tour for Cartagena.  It was another nice sea day on the Norwegian Jewel.

Wednesday / Cartagena / February 22nd / My Birthday / Day 4
Friends in Cartagena Columbia
Smooth seas overnight, but I was up early as I thought I needed to be for my excursion. I had a nice omelet from the omelet station then prepared for the day and discovered I really could have slept in as my meet time was 9:45.  At least I was able to miss the big push to get of the ship early.  About 8:45 I debarked as I knew there was a nice park area at the cruise terminal.  I was able to enjoy a very nice Coca-Cola Light and sit with the Flamingos for a while.  About 10:00 my tour was off and I was grouped with four couples from the Island Princess on a nice small bus. Our first stop was one of the two primary places I wanted to visit: Castillo San Felipe de Barajas a fortress on a high hill guarding approaches to the old walled city.  We didn’t go in it was a photo op experience but fine for me.  The next was my second priority: Convent of Santa Cruz de la Popa on the city's highest hill dates to 1607 & offers a leafy cloister & sweeping views of the area.  We stopped at a souvenir area in the old city and an Emerald Museum/Jewellry Store then walked through the old town passing: Cartagena Cathedral, Teatro Heredia, Plaza de Bolívar, and a stop at the Sanctuary of Saint Peter Claver, an elegant 1580s church with a museum dedicated to its namesake, a canonized early abolitionist.  From here I left the tour and took a taxi back to the pier as the Jewel leaves at 2:00 pm.  I was ready as I had seen what I wanted.  I made it back to the ship about 1:40 (10 minutes late) along with many others returning from tours.  While standing in the line to board the ship we were given: cold washcloths (nice ones), water, or lemonade...then once past security fresh bowls of ice creme to cool off....I'm liking NCL.  In addition to the sites I did make some bargains with local vendors: new sunglasses ($5), new straw hat ($5), and new Panama hat ($36) . It was a snack from O’Sheehan’s then rest and clean up time in the cabin for the rest of the afternoon.  At 6:00 pm I met friends in Shakers Martini Bar for cocktails.  The seven of us went to the Teppanyaki Restaurant, as they say: “It's not just a meal, it's an experience”. It was a very entertaining show by the Chef and the food was fantastic. I had a Filet Mignon / Sea Scallop combination.  They even brought out a birthday cake.  It was a wonderful day in Cartagena and evening on the Jewel.

Thursday / Panama Canal Transit / February 23rd / Day 5
Panama Canal - gates at locks
Smooth seas overnight and I slept well and awoke early to the Captains voice over the TV.  The forward camera on TV that I most always leave on in my cabin also allows announcements from the Bridge.  As we were entering the Panama Canal early this morning the Captain began his comments.  Soon my friends called and I watched us enter the canal and the first Gatun lock from their balcony.  Then to breakfast an lucked out with table on window. So watched us go through second and third locks then into Lake Gatun.  Very interesting process.  I had lunch in O’Sheehan’s and again a viewing window as we sailed upper Gatun Lake.  I had a walk about after lunch and went to the deck 8 viewing area (normally the crew deck) far forward, then up to the Spinnaker Lounge on deck 13 forward, and deck 13 and 12 outdoors as we passed through the Culebra Cut and under the Centennial Bridge.  Most guests were very interested in watching us pass through the Panama canal and they did have a running commentary of what guests were seeing as we passed through.  I ran into Louis on pool deck so I had a couple of Hugo spritzers.  It was late when we passed through the final three locks at Miraflores and dark when we went under the Bridge of the Americas. It was impressive viewing the skyline of Panama City at night.  The Jewel is now in the Bay of Panama and the Pacific Ocean.  Our group of seven met at 8:00ish at Cagney’s Steakhouse for dinner, I ordered the Iceberg Wedge Salad, a Baked Potato, and the Rib Eye Steak.  It was excellent…two great meals in two days.  After dinner I retired to the cabin as I was out and about on the ship most of the day.  It was a very educational day transiting the Panama Canal today.

Friday  /  Sea Day  /  February 24th / Day 6
My Cabin
Very smooth Pacific seas overnight and I slept well.  We turned our clocks back so we are now on Texas time for a few days as we sail northwest along the Pacific coast of Central America.  I went up to the Garden Cafe for a light breakfast with English bacon about 8:00 am.  Today’s goal is to do nothing other than rest and relax.  I did take a walk about around lunch time and enjoyed some BBQ from the pool deck.  Afternoon was cabin time and some work online until 3:30 when I went to the theater to watch the movie: Deep Water Horizon.  A very good movie.  About 6:30 pm I met the group at Shakers for a cocktail.  Five of us ate at Azura another of the MDR’s (included) located mid-ship on deck six.  I ordered: Risotto with Artichokes, Crab Louie, Tomato Salad, a Greek Meatball entree with Tzatziki sauce, and a Carmel Bread Pudding for dessert.  I did not discover the daily afternoon movies until today, they are consistent with entertainment with the primary daily shows at 7:00 and 9:00 pm in the Theater.  Tonight was Comedy although I have an early excursion so retired after dinner.  It was an easy relaxing sea day on the Jewel.

Saturday  /  Puntarenas, Costa Rica  /  February 25th / Day 7
My little friend
Smooth seas and I slept very well.  I woke early and watched us dock at the pier about 6:00ish for our scheduled 7:00 am arrival. I went up to The Great Outdoors for a quick breakfast and take in the views of this beautiful port then down to the pier for my 8:00 am meet time for my private tour.  The tour operator was Gio Tours and soon we were on our way in our 12 pax van on our 8-stop tour.  After a 20+ minute drive towards the Tárcoles River area, the first stop was to view White-faced Monkeys, they are amusing and one dropped down from a tree onto my head.  Second stop is at a Fruit Stand…a popular thing to do as there were many of them in this area.  I had a fresh fruit smoothie and some mangos.  The third stop was a two hour cruise on the Tárcoles River well known for it’s crocodile population.  We saw many croc’s including some really big ones as well as many birds, iguanas, and other wildlife. Stop four is for a nice lunch at a local open air family restaurant: Rice & Beans, Salad, Vegetables, Chicken (fish was gone), and a unique fresh Pineapple drink. I had a very nice Pilsen Beer. Stop five is at the private Nativa Resort (condominiums) were after a drive through the beautiful grounds came to an overlook of the Pacific coast, jungle, mountains, and Tárcoles River. Next stop was a large souvenir complex with clean toilets and snacks. Stop number seven is a grocery store…interesting and I did buy some candy. After a drive by tour of the town of Punta Arenus our final stop was at the lighthouse.  We were dropped at the ship about 4:00 pm...I highly recommend this tour operator...the van was nice and they had even had wifi.  There was some delay boarding as the tides required the ship to change decks of the gangways, but there was a very colorful local performance group (music & dance) on the pier.  I was quite tired, but a hot shower revived me. I wanted an easy night so I went up to the Garden Cafe, it was Chinese night, but I found the Roast Pork at the carving station and had a quick meal.  I attended the production show: Band On The Run with 80’s music and dance in the Stardust theater.  It was a very good show.  After the show I returned through the Garden Cafe and got a very nicely made Crepe for dessert.  It was a long and busy day in Costa Rica and the NCL Jewel.

Sunday  /  Corinto, Nicaragua  /  February 26th / Day 8
Lake Managua and the Momotombo Volcano
I woke early and watched some news on TV and worked on this review.  About 7:00 am as we entered the channel we encountered some rolling enough to make it difficult to walk and the pool flooded the Library below it. Exciting. I went down to the Tsar’s Palace for a nice breakfast: Three fried eggs, Scottish Kippers, bacon, ham, and more.  My meet time for today's tour is 9:30 in the theater and soon I was off on my Old & Colonial Leon NCL excursion.  There are 39 on a nice 46 pax bus and we off on a 1.5 hour drive to León Viejo founded in June 1524 by the Spanish and covered by a volcanic event in 1610.  It has been called the Pompeii of the Americas. My favorite site was the location of the original fort with a view of Lake Managua and the Momotombo Volcano (photo).  I was surprised by the number of active (smoking) volcanoes in the area.  Following the tour we had lunch next door in a family outdoor restaurant consisting of: Frijoles, Slaw, Beef, Chicken, Rice, & Plantains.  After lunch we were off to Leon 25+ miles away and toured the main Square and Cathedral of León, also known as Our Lady of Grace Cathedral.  The Cathedral's construction lasted between 1747 and 1814 and was consecrated by Pope Pius IX in 1860. The Cathedral has maintained the status of being the largest cathedral in Central America and one of the best known in the Americas due to its distinct architecture and special cultural importance. Both the Cathedral in León and León Viejo are UNESCO Heritage sites. I did have time for a very nice mojito in Leon before boarding the buses at 4:10 for the journey back to Corinto.  We arrived back just after our due time of 5:30 pm later than expected due to losing an hour with some bus problems earlier, but we made it and sailed at 5:45 pm during a beautiful sunset.  After cleaning up I met the gang at Shakers then we went to Tsar's Palace for dinner. I ordered: Spanish Gazpacho, Braised Stone Fruits, Mixed Garden Salad, and the Grilled New York Strip Steak entree.  I skipped dessert and retired to the cabin to rest & prepare for tomorrows early excursion.   It was a great excursion day in Nicaragua.

Monday  /  Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala  /  February 27th / Day 9
Santa Catalina Arch with Volcán de Auga
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well.  I ordered room service as my wake up call this morning and it arrived perfectly between 6:30 -7:00 am as requested.  I watched us arrive and dock on the cabin TV as I prepared to meet my tour at 8:00 am. My NCL excursion was Antigua On Your Own and soon I was on my bus for the 90 minute drive to the Colonial city of Antigua established in 1524.  We passed several coffee plantations on the drive up into the mountains and actually drove between the Volcán de Fuego and Volcán de Auga.  You could see the old lava flows and one is still active.  Antigua is a city in the central highlands of Guatemala famous for its well-preserved Spanish Baroque-influenced architecture as well as a number of ruins of colonial churches. It served as the capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala and at it’s height had a population of 70,000 in 1770’s less than half that now. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  My favorite site was the Cathedral of Saint James San José Parish originally built in 1541 and reconstructed following several earthquakes in 1680.  It was severely damaged in earthquake of 1773 and only partial rebuilt.  I was able to tour the ruins of the original ($1 donation) located directly behind existing Church.  It had to have been amazing...largest in the Americas.  I also enjoyed: the Captain General Palace, La Merced Church, the Santa Catalina Arch, and the very active main Plaza of the old town. I had a very nice lunch at Restaurante El Arco located at the Arch in the old Convent building: Mango Mojito, Agua, Guacamole, Frijoles, Chips, and local Salsa.  I did a bit of shopping, but perhaps the better values were from the street vendors and there are a LOT of them.  One could easily spend a few days here in this unique location. Too soon I met our bus for the return to the ship and we were back by 4:30.  There are a lot of nice craft vendors at the port area.   I went up to watch sail away and enjoy a mojito at the Great Outdoors Deck 12 aft…it was a pleasant evening.   Later I went to the Tsar’s Palace for dinner, it was good, I ordered the Mixed Green Salad, the Beef Brisket (weak), and the Grouper fish entree.  For desert a great Banana Soufflé and the Mojito Fruit.  I needed a good rest night after three intensive excursions so I retire early.  It was a wonderful day in the beautiful colonial city of Antigua.

Tuesday  /  Sea Day  /  February 28th / Day 10
The Great Outdoors
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well.  The sea surface is smooth with just a bit of rolling, the Captain has said it’s a good day to watch as Turtles, Dolphins, and Whales have been seen this morning.  I went to the Garden Cafe for an omelet and I’m loving the English Bacon.  I had my Yeti filled up at the Great Outdoors with Ginger Ale and good for a relaxing morning.  The ship had a laundry special: one bag for $19.95 flat fee, so I stuffed a bag full...we'll see how that works out.  I was heading to the Pool deck BBQ when I saw them making fresh Cuban Panini sandwiches so I had one with some great beet roots for lunch.  I met friends at O’Sheehan’s at 1:00 and enjoyed a Pilsner Urquell. We saw quite a few large sea turtles in the  calm seas. The afternoon was cabin time, nap time, and work/internet time and it was productive.  I went to Shakers and had the best cocktails so far: an Elderflower Cosmo, I will only use that bartender now.  Our group had dinner in Cagney’s steakhouse again, I ordered: the Iceburgh Wedge Salad, a perfect Ribeye Steak, Beet Roots and shared Baked Potato & Mushrooms.  It was all excellent.  For dessert a Mudslide cocktail and on my late walk about had a strawberry & vanilla swirl ice creme from the Great Outdoors.  It was an easy yet productive day on The Norwegian Jewel.

Wednesday  /  Acapulco, Mexico  /  March 1st / Day 11
La Quebrada Cliff Divers (2) - double click photo to enlarge
Smooth seas continue and I slept very well.  I went up to the Garden Cafe for breakfast and have a nice view of Acapulco Bay.  I met friends who are the same excursion as I this morning at 9:00 am and proceeded to the meet location in the cruise terminal.  After waiting for others in group, (about 25) we were off in full size bus on our excursion. This was my first visit to Acapulco and I was not fully aware of the typography or size of the crescent shaped Bay itself.  Such a beautiful location.  The city is best known as one of Mexico's oldest and most well-known beach resorts, which came into prominence in the 1950s as a getaway for Hollywood stars and millionaires. Acapulco is still famous and still attracts many tourists, although most are now from Mexico itself. The resort area is divided into two: The north end of the bay is the "traditional" area, where the famous in the mid-20th century vacationed, and the south end is dominated by newer luxury high-rise hotels.  We drove the Boulevard towards and through the new Acapulco observing the high rise hotels, modern restaurants, nightclubs, international businesses (Office Depot, Walmart, etc.), and more.  We then drove through the Puerto Marqués area of exclusive resorts and the ‘Beverly Hills’ area of Acapulco with magnificent homes overlooking the bay.  We reversed our route passing back through our original route and beyond the cruise terminal in opposite direction into the traditional area where the 1950’s era hotels, fish market, and Zócalo (main square) are located.  Then we were off to see the La Quebrada Cliff Divers.  It was a very interesting show and tradition since the 1930’s. Following the cliff diving we returned to the cruise terminal.  Located directly across from the ship is Acapulco's most historic building: the Fort of San Diego, originally built in 1616 to protect the city from pirate attacks. It was rebuilt in 1776 and 1783 and parts of the moats remain as well as the five bulwarks and the battlements. Now the fort serves as the Museo Histórico de Acapulco (Acapulco Historical Museum), which shows the port's history from the pre-Hispanic period until independence.  Very easy and convenient to visit.  At 4:15 the ship hosted a Mexican Folkloric Show with a local professional dance troupe.  It was a fantastic show, but I love traditional cultural shows.  I watched a beautiful sail away from the aft facing Great Outdoor Bar as we sailed out of Acapulco Bay.  I had a simple dinner from the Garden Cafe and retired to cabin soon afterward.  Acapulco was a very pleasing and enjoyable port.

Thursday  /  Sea Day  /  March 2nd / Day 12
Pool Deck BBQ
A bit of rolling seas overnight.  I was up in the night and did some wifi work before returning to sleep.  We turned our time back one hour last night so I was ready at 7:30 am when the NYSE opened for a few trades, different.  Then to Tsar’s Palace MDR for a proper breakfast: Fruit, Eggs, Ham, Bacon, and Dollar Pancakes.  My big bag of laundry was returned and they did a great job, it was delivered in a long basket and all neatly folded. I had a nice walk about and spent some time in a chair outside on deck 7 people watching.  This would be an outdoor promenade similar to the old ocean liners and not as common on cruise ships.  It’s nice to have a lower deck that you can walk completely around the ship.  There are a high number of foreign guests on this cruise, in fact probably the majority, and they really use that outer deck, even playing shuffle board games.  Interesting.  The weather is also cooling somewhat as we head north.  I’m so glad I checked on the pool deck BBQ as they had Pork Fatback today.  It was by far the best BBQ on the cruise so far.  They also had a great English Trifle dessert in the Garden Cafe.  This afternoon I caught up on some needed online work then did some whale watching from the Great Outdoors aft.  About 6:00 pm I went to Shakers for a few of my special cocktails  and the gang was all there, then to the Tsar’s Palace MDR for dinner.  I ordered the Creme of Cauliflower Soup, Tomato Salad, and the Sirloin Steak Diane entree.  The production show was an All Star Variety Show with the production cast,  dancers, and comedian.  It was a nice sea day on the Jewel.

Friday  /  Cabo San Lucas, Mexico  /  March 3rd / Day 13
Mr.Cool in Cabo  (what two locals called me)
Smooth seas overnight and I again slept well.  We arrived early in Cabo this morning before the 7:00 am scheduled time and they began tendering a few minutes early. I went up to the Garden Cafe for an Omelet and English bacon and had a great view of the Cabo point.  I was in the cabin just after 7:30 and heard a standard debark/tender announcement from the CD which I interpreted as “if you come now it will be easy” so I did.  It was walk down and walk right on the tender, no waiting at all.  Of course it put me there very early…well before our tour time but I bought a Coca-cola light, visited with guests, and was able to get the Wi-Fi code from Senior Frogs to pass some time.  My tour was a Whale Watching Tour off the coast operated by Magna Oceanus and purchased through ShoreTrips.  The double-decker catamaran sailed by sites such as Lover's Beach, Sea Lion Colony, and Cabo Arch. We had a delicious lunch and generous domestic open bar.  We did see whales with an occasional full breach, very nice.  The Cabo Harbor is a very busy place with boats and tenders of all sizes coming in and out and we were the only cruise ship today.  I can only imagine what it would be like with two or more ships. We were back well in time for the tenders and our early scheduled 2:00 pm departure from Cabo.  I went up to the Great Outdoors for sail away...and lo the gang was there, I'd been suggesting it as it's perfect location.  I had some Pilsner Urquell beers and enjoyed our sailing around the Baja and begin our sailing north up the Pacific coast of Mexico. I went to Shakers, the cocktail bar, and had one of my favorites, then the group went to Tsar’s Palace for dinner.  I ordered New England Clam Chowder, a Crab Souffle, Mixed Green Salad, and two entrees: Prime Rib with Baked Potato & a lightly Grilled Flounder.  Stardust Showtime featured the show Le Cirque Bijou tonight. It was a fun day in Cabo and the Jewel today.

Saturday  /  Final Sea Day  /  March 4th / Day 14
Shakers Cocktail Bar
Smooth seas overnight and I slept off and on then up too early.  I did go to the Tsar’s Palace MDR for a very nice Eggs Benedict breakfast.  I went up to The Great Outdoors for a Yeti size ginger ale and saw friends that had a table so it was whale watching from deck 12 for a good while.  We saw several whales breach, kind of rare from a cruise ship, but we are in the prime time of year and the migrating lanes sailing up the Pacific coast of Mexico  It’s getting cooler but it was very nice sitting in the sun.  We stayed until after noon then got grilled baby back ribs from the pool deck BBQ.  They were excellent, perhaps not as good as the Fat Back, but they did save the best two items for the last two sea days.  After lunch it was movie time, I watched The Magnificent Seven (2016), a new very good ‘western shoot ‘em up’ movie.  After the movie it was cabin time.  I went for a cocktail as usual at Shakers on deck 6, then met the group at the Teppanyaki Restaurant for dinner.  Thought we'd make our final dinner a memorable one at the best restaurant on the ship.  I again ordered the Filet Mignon / Sea Scallop combination.  It was another great show by the chef and another great meal.  It was a great final sea day on the Norwegian Jewel.

Sunday / Debarkation / March 5th
I was up early and watched us back into the channel and port terminal on TV and later from on deck.  The terminal looks much better than when I was here last and we are docked next to the USS Iowa battleship.  I had my final breakfast with English bacon from the Garden Cafe on lido deck and tested the cool weather outside.  Much different weather than I have had for a month+ at sea.  I completed my packing then to meet friends, debark, and begin another wee adventure.

Tonnage: 93,502 GT - Length: 965 ft (294.13 m) - Beam: 106 ft (32.31 m) - Draft:  27 ft  Decks:  15  Speed: 25 knots - Capacity: 2,376 passengers - Crew: 1,100  -  This ship entered service on 4 August 2005. She was constructed at Meyer Werft Shipyard in Germany and was christened in November 2005 at Port of Miami.  Her godmother is Melania Trump, spouse of U.S. President, Donald Trump. 

I had cabin 11147 an interior located on deck 11 far aft. When I booked this long ago I was still recovering from my tropical disease Schistosomiasis (caught in St. Kitts) so I had booked a handicap cabin.  I had forgotten that I had, but will enjoy it.  Basically the difference is: more floor space, emergency buttons, and bench in bathroom.  The cabin has a double bed, a push button safe, three-section closet, two chairs, two electrical outlets on counter/dresser and two at TV, Telephone on nightstand, Hair dryer at counter/dresser, and small flat screen TV.  There is an empty refrigerator. My cabin steward, Maggie from Columbia was very good, the cabin was always clean.

Dining / Food / Bars
Huge difference for me with the Freestyle dining on NCL.  There are NO set dining times anywhere, but the option to dine in six or seven dining venues or six premium venues with an extra cover charge.  I really like the Tablecloths in the primary dining rooms…very classy compared to Carnival Cruise Line.  They also have one MDR with stricter dress code and one MDR with more casual dress code.  Something for everyone.  I like it.  The food was very impressive, but also different to me so change is good.  They did have a REAL steak, among other nice entrees offered every night on a set menu if you wished, or the daily menu that changes with special entrees.  Very impressive menus.  The pool deck BBQ on sea days is great.  Two 24 hour ice creme machines. There are 16 bars on board, my favorites were Shakers the martini bar and The Great Outdoors bar on Lido aft.

Crew / Other
Most crew were friendly, helpful, and efficient. The NCL iPhone App is wonderful, especially for checking your account balances.


Antiquia, Guatamala
Teppanyaki Restaurant
Costa Rica 8/1 Tour
Cagney’s Steakhouse
Tsar’s Palace Main Dining Room
Cabo San Lucas Day
Acapulco Day
Old & Colonial Leon in Nicaragua
Cartagena Columbia Excursion
Transit of Panama Canal

Panama Canal Certificate

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Carnival Vista Cruise Review

Carnival Vista Cruise Review

February 11-18, 2017

Just the Facts:
Ship: Carnival Vista
Captain: Stefano Battinelli
Cruise Director:  Matt Mitcham
Hotel Director:  Pier-Giorgio Micallef
Ports: Miami - Grand Turk - LaRomana - Bonaire - Aruba - Miami

This cruise is the third of five consecutive cruises for me.  This is my 68th Carnival cruise, my 2nd time on the Carnival Vista and 125th cruise overall.  I am cruising as a solo.

Saturday / Embarkation / February 11th / Day 1
Vista Tides Pool Lido aft - Miami - Carnival Glory
I left the Carnival Glory my cruise home for past two weeks about 9:00 am and walked over one berth to the Carnival Vista. I checked both my bags at the VIFP area then had to wait until they opened the doors at just before 10:00 am but I had a place to sit.  Once they opened it was a breeze to get through security then go upstairs to the large VIFP waiting lounge.  Since they do not issue your Sail & Sign cards that was all there was…just wait until boarding…couldn’t be easier.  They called for Diamonds to board first about 11:15 am and a dozen or so people were escorted to the doors and boarding.  I was at my cabin before 11:30 and my S&S card was in my mail box…so easy.  I dropped my bag and headed strait to the Mongolian Grill.  I was first there and they opened just for me…I was craving it for two weeks since I was sailing on Carnival, but the Carnival Glory does not have one.  I had a great bowl: a chicken/beef combo with vegetables and noodles.  I walked out onto deck 11 to take photos and noticed my friend and great Alchemist Gabriel working at the Tides Bar on Lido aft.  Good to see him right away. I debated as to purchase a Cheers package, but decided against it.  Still not that many guests on board and there was ‘no line’ Pizza available at the Pizza Station…so I had to test a slice of Pepperoni and Four-cheese. Good Pizza. I checked on a reservation for the Chef’s table in the steakhouse and think I’ll get in this week.  When I returned to my cabin my two bags had been delivered so I began cabin set up, that seems to take an hour now with magnets, plug convertors, new toilet lights, hanging clothes, and more.  I ordered the internet package and even got a laundry order ready.  BTW—the internet is much faster on the Vista than the Glory.  Soon it was time for Boat drill, my muster station is the Limelight Lounge so all can sit…makes it tolerable. I went on top deck to make some business phone calls as we pushed away and began sailing up the channel…it is impressive.  I have noticed a large number of children already on this cruise…no explanation for that. I went up to the Alchemy Bar about 7:00ish and fairly busy and probably will be this week, I was told they had a record number of pre-sales of the Cheers package. Explains the drunk lady at boat drill and another at Alchemy.  But there were some nice people as well at Alchemy. They have new hours at the Alchemy opening at 5:00 pm each day and all three: Ana, Gabe, and Teodora all have shifts at other Bars during the day. Interesting change. I have assigned 8:15 dinner in the ugly Reflections Dining room, the Maitre’D did well by assigning three Diamond guests and four Platinum guests together, he just didn’t know that one would be a very obnoxious and loud drunk lady. Shame because the waiter Jerome (from Goa) is excellent.  Not sure how I’m going to play this out, I almost left before being served, and of course was going to change to Your Time Dining today anyway as I prefer the other MDR.  But now I’m morbidly curious as to how that lady train wreak at the table works out.  For dinner I ordered: the Creme of Ripened Tomatoes (too many huge croutons), Heart of Lettuce Salad, Sweet & Sour Shrimp, Honey Glazed Pork Loin (very good), and Tiramisu for dessert.  As the lady in question and her husband walked away I overheard her say to him: “at least I didn’t pass out this time”.  Humorous now but a bit stunning at the time.  Matt’s Welcome Show was this evening, but I retired after a walk about the ship.  It was an interesting first day on the Carnival Vista.

Sunday / Fun Day at Sea / February 12th / Day 2
Tommy Drake comedian
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well. I woke after 8:30 and worked on this review then went down to the Horizon’s Restaurant for the Sea Day brunch.  While there I saw the Maitdre’D so I made the change to YTD.  Brunch was excellent, I ordered my ‘big’ breakfast: Tomato juice, a Fruit plate to start and three fried eggs over easy with toast, bacon, ham, & potatoes.  It was very well prepared with great service and fellow guests. I had some internet time the balance of the morning, the speed on Vista is good, there is a bug on Carnival website when making bookings that will not allow one finalize due to speed of satellite on ships…it even happens at times on the ranch (I too have satellite).  Works well on Vista.  I did a walk about on the ship and there are guests everywhere, there must be many more sailing than when I was on Vista last during the transatlantic cruise. Glad I had a big breakfast as there are very long lines for Guy’s, Blue Iguana, and the Marketplace buffet. Amazing basically standing room only on Lido pool area.  I went to the IMAX theater for an afternoon first run movie: La La Land.  A great theater and a great movie, I can see why it’s a favorite for the academy award and how cool to see a movie at sea.  This is elegant night, but I decided to have Fish & Chips from the Seafood Shack and ate on the aft Lido deck.  Very nice.  This evenings primary entertainment was America Rocks in the Liquid Lounge, but I chose to watch the Punchliner PG comedy show of Tommy Drake in the Limelight Lounge.  He was brilliantly funny.  I was well fed and entertained…it was a great sea day on the Carnival Vista.

Monday / Grand Turk / February 13th / Day 3
Beautiful beach looking towards Jack's Shack from Ship
Slight rolling seas over night and another very nice sleep.  We were already docked (7:00 am) when I awoke about 8:00 am.  I thought about several options for the day but I was just here on Thursday and we have to be back on ship by 1:30 pm so I’m going to have a stay on the ship day.  First I went up to the Lido and had a single Huevos Rancheros from the Blue Iguana, yes they are precooking the eggs on the Vista.  They do have a hot plate so I may do a custom order next time. Still good, but could be better.  I met a friend sailing on the Carnival Sunshine, now docked next to us, down on the Pier at the little Rest Tents they set up.  We actually visited for over an hour and really had a fantastic spot for observing people as they came off the ships. Really enjoyed the photographers working…it was quite a show.  When you cruise a lot anything different is Fun and so it was a Fun Visit.  I went to JiJi’s and the Mongolian Grill just after it opened at noon.  It was a great lunch.  Then walked the decks a couple of times and enjoyed the view of the beach and island. Received a notice that my excursion for tomorrow has been cancelled…not enough guests booked.  About 4:30 I had a basic Guy’s Burger, then about 6:00 headed up to Alchemy where Gabe fixed me a Cuban cocktail to set the mood for the show tonight.  I went to the Liquid Lounge at 7:00 to get better seats for the show Amor Cubano and scored a seat on the 2nd row…nice.  The show was very good…this is an excellent Playlist Production cast probably best in the fleet.  It was a Fun day on the Carnival Vista.

Tuesday  /  LaRomana, Dominican Republic  /  February 14th / Day 4
Valentine's Day Dessert
Just slightly rolling seas overnight, but I really feel very little movement from my cabin location low deck and center.  I was awake early and went to the MDR for breakfast at 8:00 a.m.. The pancakes, bacon, & ham were good.  My excursion to Santo Domingo was cancelled yesterday as it did not have enough people booked. I really didn’t see another that was really unique to the area (beaches, snorkeling, zip lines can be done most anywhere in Caribbean) and I prefer cultural sites so I just went down to the cruise pier area.  It’s located at the site of an old fort and they did have a nicely maintained clean area with a lot of craft and souvenir vendors as well as a little coffee shop and bar area.  It was suggested that this is not really a place to explore on your own and although brave and experienced I didn’t explore and returned to the ship.  A very relaxing morning for me and I went up to the Mongolian Grill again for a very nice lunch.  Then I got the homemade style ice creme in the Marketplace, usually a long line but not so with many off the ship.  The flavor today was Caribbean Passion Fruit and it was quite good.  I had a nice table on Lido deck and enjoyed the weather and views during the afternoon then had cabin time.  At 5:00 pm I attended the Diamond Cocktail Party in the Piano Bar.  An entertainer played nice cocktail music for us and I enjoyed several Cosmopolitans.  The two staff members I remembered and who remember me was Marko the Bar Manager, and Sylvia one of the bar servers.  I guess I know my priorities.  Actually I met the Food Manager and Linda the Housekeeping Manager before.  The Captain came and took a photo with everyone individually and we received the photos by the end of the party. Amazing. Three cocktail servers and two bartenders did a great job. It was a fun Diamond party...thanks Carnival Vista.  Some Diamond guests invited me to dine with them at 8:15 so I had some quality Alchemy Bar time until dinner.  Since I had enjoyed several cocktails I limited myself to a very nice Spritzer prepared by Ana.  So I’m back in the Reflections restaurant for dinner, I did visit my original table and the drunk lady was not there so the dynamics had changed since the first night.  My table tonight was nice and I ordered two of my favorite Red Beet Carpaccio, Heart of IceBerg Lettuce, the excellent Southern Fried Chicken entree and we were served a special Valentine dessert.  The primary entertainment was the Valentines edition of the Love and Marriage Show with Matt, but I had a full evening so retired to the cabin.  It was a interesting and Fun day on the Vista.

Wednesday / Bonaire / February 15th / Day 5
Chef's presentation of veal entree
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well.  We do not arrive in Bonaire until 1:30 pm so I slept in as long as possible.  I finally went up to the Blue Iguana about 10:15 am and they did (somewhat reluctantly) prepare me a fresh over-easy egg Huevos Rancheros.  It was great.  I then sat out on deck 11 enjoying the fresh sea air, and had time to update my review while waiting to arrive in Bonaire.  We approached the island about 1:00 for a 1:30 arrival…guests get anxious on late arrivals but we stay in port until 10:00 pm. I wanted to take a short island tour but need to be back early so I got off about 1:45.  I had a tour operator in mind, but ended up doing a mini tour ($25) through the local taxi operator as I got the front pax seat and it was ready to go.  We did the north island tour, stopping first at 1000 steps a famous dive location, then drove through the Gotomeer Lake and Flamingo Sanctuary, then a stop at Cadushy Distillery where they make liquor from cactus. We then drove through  Rincon the oldest town of the Netherlands Antilles founded in 1527 by the Spainish.  We then drove to Seru Largu the highest point of the tour at 404 feet  with a view over the south and east coasts of Bonaire with also a view of the ship.  In addition to the sites we saw Iguanas, a Sea Eagle, Flamingos, lots of cactus including cactus fences and more. We were dropped in Kralendijk and I had a nice mango gelato to hold my appetite until my special dinner tonight and the reason I wanted a short tour: I have reservations for the Chef’s Table this evening. The meeting place for dinner was in the Vista atrium at 6:25 pm, they checked our paperwork and health statements then about 6:45 we were taken through the Reflections MDR into the galley.  At a stainless steel prep area we had olives and cheese with champagne and the chef made an usual cotton candy type olive on a skewer.  He also prepared from scratch a lollypop with unusual flavors…I suspect this was to cleanse our pallets.  We were then led into a beautiful small dining room purposely built for this experience on the new Carnival Vista.  Our first course was Spring Peas & Matcha Soup, then Berkshire Pork Belly over Shrimps, then Slow Cooked Crispy Lamb.  At this point we had a Galley tour and instruction and preparation of a Chocolate Melting Cake.  We then returned to our personal dining room and served Olive Oil Poached Seabass with a Passion Fruit Caviar, Quail with Wild Mushrooms, and Veal with Crushed Green Apples. Then two desserts: Citrus Cream with Elderflower caviar and Chocolate Hazelnut.  All very interesting and professionally served.  My favorites were the Sea Bass and Citrus Cream. We exited through the galley and MDR and it was almost 10:00 pm by the time I returned to the cabin…time for sail away. It was a great day with a very unique dining experience on the Vista today.

Thursday / Aruba / February 16th / Day 6
Aruba Trolly on the High Street
Smooth seas overnight and I again slept well. I was awake much too early but updated this review and relived last nights fine dining.  I watched us sail into Aruba on the cabin TV…we have a choice of 8 ship cameras to monitor and the high resolution picture is amazing…it reminds me of a virtual balcony.  The Freewinds, the Scientology ship, is docked next to us. I went to the MDR for a proper Eggs Benedict breakfast about 8:30 and I was served straight away as most guests are getting off the ship to explore the lovely beaches of Aruba.  I left the ship about 10:00 am and did the Trolley to end of line and return to the Posh shopping area.  The new landscaping areas along the line have matured and it is much prettier than last visit.  The ‘big name (5th Ave)’ shopping venues are nice, I hope there is enough business on this small island to support them. I found a nice eatery: Gelatissimo Bistro that had a outdoor bar area, wifi, and cool breeze.  I enjoyed the wifi and frozen special mixed berry Festival cocktail then ordered an Aruba Salad with Grilled Shrimp, Avocado, and Hearts of Palm over a bed of green lettuce. I looked around the nicer shopping area and the new Renaissance Mall where I had an ‘Alchemist in the Wild’ sighting before returning to the ship.  I actually had a nice nap, first in a while, before our 4:00 pm sail away.  I went to the Alchemy Bar for a couple of nice specialty cocktails this evening then to the Horizon’s MDR for dinner.  I requested a share table and it worked flawlessly, they started a new table for me and after just a short wait two other nice couples were seated once it hit the reservation system.  A nice dinner - I ordered: Two Shrimp Cocktails, The Bing Cherry Soup (in a glass), the Tomato & Green Bean Salad (pass on that one), the Pan Seared Basa Filet, and from the local port menu the Antillean Style Grilled Chicken. For dessert I ordered the very nice Boston Creme Cake.  FLICK is the feature production show this evening, probably the most UNIQUE show in the fleet and not to be missed.  It was a fun and easy final port day on the Vista.

Friday / Fun Say at Sea / February 17th / Day 7
Rolling seas overnight, but motion really can not be felt in my cabin location and I had a nice sleep. I worked on some Cruise bookings before going to the MDR for the Sea Day brunch about 9:30 am and was seated almost strait away.  A nice Three egg breakfast.  I walked Lido deck then went to Cherry on Top for a variety of candies.  I had a very lazy morning…PJ’s and TV time most of the day…they do have on demand movies, both free and pay and the large flat screen is great.  About 4:00 pm I had two nice Guy’s burgers, one dressed and one plain, the diet cokes I had pre-ordered and delivered on first day will make it to the end, and coke does go well with the burgers.  This afternoon I did some vacation planning for Europe this summer then went to the Alchemy Bar for a nice cocktail with Annamarie.  I went to the early 7:30 production show: Studio VIP in the Liquid Lounge.  It was a great show, too bad the Liquid Lounge is the second worst theater in the fleet (small in size & a level floor obstructing viewing).  My plan was to eat at the Sea Food Shack this evening but it closed early, so it was stand in line for late pizza at 9:30 pm.  The pizza was fresh once I got it so very good.  So late dinner was pepperoni pizza, diet coke, and candy for dessert in the cabin.  It was a very easy lazy day on the Carnival Vista.

Saturday / Fun Say at Sea / February 18th / Day 8
My wonderful Alchemists: Teodora, AnnaMarie, Gabriel
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well until 9:30 am in fact on our final sea day. About 10ish I went up to the Lido Marketplace for some nice fresh fruit.  I had not been to the Havana area all cruise and that was our HQ on the Vista transatlantic cruise.  It is probably the best decorated public area on the ship. The rumors must be true about no more food, the food heaters and displays are gone.  Too bad, but it really wasn’t used that much as it was never a full breakfast nor lunch…more similar to bar snacks to go with your coffee.  I lounged in the Havana until afternoon so I could get some Guy’s Pig & Anchor BBQ on the Ocean Plaza.  It is only open on sea days and my last chance.  It was much better than when it first opened on the transatlantic, I had Chicken, Pork, Brisket, Slaw, Beans, & Bread.  I then went up to the Lido for the homemade style ice creme for dessert, today they had Tiramisu and Coconut Creme, good but not as good as the Passion Fruit.  At 4:00 pm I went to the Platinum/Diamond VIFP reunion party.  I had only a few cocktails and I was the senior Carnival cruiser on board with 497 days.  I had dinner in the Horizons MDR.  I ordered the Green Salad with Tomatoes, French Onion Soup, Pasta as starter, a very nice encrusted Chicken Entree, and the Prime Rib entree (sorry didn't take photo of menu so not exact names).  I skipped dessert in order to start preparing for arrival in Miami in the morning.

Sunday / Miami / February 19th / Debarkation
Fair seas overnight and I didn't slept well for first time...maybe anxious about new cruise today on unfamiliar ship.  I got up and began packing taking a break for breakfast about 8:15 in the MDR.  My final Carnival Eggs Benedict breakfast for a while.  I finished packing and left the cabin and waited on Promenade Deck until about 9:50 and just walked easily off the ship.  Once through Customs I walked two berths up to the NCL Jewel.

I had cabin 1353 a 1A interior located on deck one behind mid-elevators on starboard side. Although a low deck it was a fine location in the middle of the ship…very smooth sailing.  I appreciated the location on port days.  The cabin is has a lot of floor interior space as only one twin bed. It has a push button safe, two-section closet, no chairs, three electrical outlets on counter/dresser, USB port, Telephone on desk, Small Stool at Dresser, Hair dryer in counter/dresser, and large flat screen TV with the interactive features.  There is an empty refrigerator. The cabin is great for me as a solo. My cabin steward was very good, the cabin was always clean and ice container filled.

Dining / Food / Bars
The Horizons Main Dining Room is much nicer than the one level Reflections Dining room.  Set dining was in the Reflections Dining room located mid ship on deck three and Your Time Dining (YTD) was in Horizons on deck 3 aft.  The Blue Iguana for burritos and Guy’s Burgers are excellent.  The Lido Marketplace buffet food is pretty standard fare, but selected entrees are very good. I had good table locations, nice fellow guests, and the waiters were good.  They have returned the butter knife to the American Table. The saucers for coffee cups as well as tablecloths are now gone from breakfast tables. The Mongolian Grill and Cucina del Capitano are excellent for both lunch (free) and dinner. The BBQ on deck 5 and the Seafood Shack on Lido aft are very good.  Very nice Alchemy Bar and location on the Vista. 

Crew / Other
The entire ship crew were very friendly, they themselves can make the cruise more enjoyable for the guest. Waiters and Cabin stewards especially very friendly. They always seemed to have a smile on their face and eager to please the guests. The excellent training by Carnival is quite obvious. The Carnival Hub application is wonderful, especially for checking your account balances.

Alchemy Bar and Alchemists
Chef's Table
Diamond Guest Party with Captain & Senior Officers
VIFP Party

Senior Guest on Carnival Vista