Norwegian Star through the Panama Canal

Norwegian Star March 2015 Feature

Los Angeles to Miami; fourteen nights through the Panama Canal: Mexico, Costa Rica, transit Panama, Colombia – on board the Norwegian Star – Feb 2 to Feb 16, 2015

Looking back, a cruise in February was exactly what I needed. Although the UK is not as cold as North America, it really broke up the winter months. It was a tick off the bucket list too, as I always wanted to go through the Panama Canal. The nice part about a cruise is that you can do absolutely nothing or partake in a vast variety of activities on offer. The motto of Norwegian is ‘Freestyle’ and that’s exactly what was called for.

Beach Front Huatulco Mexico
Beach Front Huatulco Mexico

Getting onto the ship was an easy process but I must say it seemed like it was some of the staff’s first day too and the bottle of champagne that I wanted when the ship departed was nowhere to be found. Things did get better, way better.

The Norwegian Star has a huge pool area which could always accommodate all the people who wanted to sit in the sunshine which averaged about 28 degrees centigrade every day. There were even two waterslides. While they were underused on the trip, the six Jacuzzi’s were always full.

Pool Area on the Norwegian Star
Pool Area on the Norwegian Star

The food was excellent. As they say on a cruise, you will never go hungry. For dinner, we decided we were going to go the main dining room, the Versailles, every night and get the same server, Luh. Boy, did she look after us. The food just keep on coming, and she always did it with a smile on her face. From seafood starters to prime rib with all the trimmings for the main, to exquisite desserts, you couldn’t fault the food one bit.

If you didn’t want to eat in the two dining rooms that were included in the price, there were several restaurants on board. For a small supplement, you could choose from an American style steakhouse, a Brazilian style steakhouse, a sushi bar, Asian, Italian or French cuisine. They were top notch too. And, once again, the food keeps coming. Norwegian tries to please everyone.

The entertainment was top notch also. Jim Badger was a highlight. He played the piano and entertained in the Gatsby Lounge. He was extremely funny and a real crowd pleaser. I couldn’t get enough of him. On the main stage, the ensemble singing/dance troop was excellent. The finale show was a delight. One costume cost $15000. It was bright red and covered in Swarovski crystals. The show was the best I have seen on a cruise ship. There was also a brilliant ventriloquist, Michael Paul, who was very funny and also worth a mention.

And a cruise wouldn’t be complete without the mention of our cabin person, Chris. He changed our towels, made our beds and crafted different towel animals that he left in our room every night. He even came looking for us on the ship one night when we had a delivery to the room. Chris made our stay just that much more special.

Lovers Beach, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Lovers Beach, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

There were four stops in Mexico, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Huatulco, Puerto Chiapas, one in Costa Rica, Puntarenas, and one in Colombia, Cartegena.

Zip Lining in Costa Rica
Zip Lining in Costa Rica
Bus Tour in Puerto Chiapas, Mexico
Bus Tour in Puerto Chiapas, Mexico

All had something unique to offer: Cabo for the boat ride to the famous hole in the wall; Puerto Vallerta for the drive to Sayulita, a tourist town about 70 minutes north of PV, with a friend who lives there; Huatulco for the beautiful beaches; Puerto Chiapas for the lovely and accommodating locals; Puntarenas for the zip-lining; and Cartegena for the visit to the old town.

Market Stall Old Town Cartegena
Market Stall Old Town Cartegena
Panama City at Dawn
Panama City at Dawn

The main event was the transit through the Panama Canal. Getting up at 6am was a bit of a killer but worth it. The sun rising over the skyline of Panama City was spectacular. We were told the skyline is one of the top ten in the world. Now, it was quite a procedure going through the locks.

Huge cables were attached to what looked like little engines, on each side of the cruise ship, and they pulled the ship into position. Then, the water starting filling up the lock and, our huge ship, rose about 33 feet in minutes. There are six locks in total, three up and three down. A ship raises a total of 85 feet or 26 meters. Once you’re through the locks and into Panama, you’re sailing through huge lakes that were formed when it was constructed in 1914. It was strange to think when you were going from lock to lock that you were actually travelling through a country. Nine hours later we were in the Atlantic Ocean and I could tick the Panama Canal off my bucket list.

Panama Canal
Panama Canal

The 14 night cruise was relatively inexpensive, but be careful, the costs can add up. A trip to the doctor and medication was $200. My credit card was billed on a daily basis.  So, if you have a credit card that charges you for foreign transactions, you could be in for an extra $5 to $10 dollars a day.

All in all, it was the perfect holiday. The days were all too short though. I could have stayed on the ship for another week. The Norwegian Star gets two thumbs up.

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Anonymous

James Cowling is a freelance journalist. He was brought up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and has lived in London, UK, for 20 years. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation during the election that brought Nelson Mandela to power in 1994. James came to London shortly after that and has worked for the CBC, NBC and CNBC. He also worked for NBC Radio where he covered the Hong Kong Handover in 1997, the Death of Diana, Princess of Wales in...read more

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