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My review of the Jewel's 16-night WB Panama Canal cruise, Jan. 20-Feb. 5, 2017


Turtles06
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My wife and I returned last Sunday from the Jewel's 16-night westbound Panama Canal cruise, Miami to LA, Jan. 20-Feb. 5, 2017. So as not to bury the lede, I'll start by saying that we had a fabulous time, notwithstanding the dreaded lurgy that was going around the ship and that we contracted in the waning days of the cruise. We are still sick and still have hacking coughs; in fact, I can't recall the last time we were this sick.

 

Putting that aside, we really did have a great time. The staff and crew were terrific, and we met many wonderful people through our Roll Call and on board.

 

We booked this particular itinerary (a rather unique one, given the 16 nights v. the typical 14) because we were able to secure our "dream cabin" for the Panama Canal: a forward-facing SE Penthouse suite directly under the bridge. (Also, this was a celebratory cruise, so a splurge was in order. Or, as the British say with much greater flair, "we splashed out.")

 

The transit of the Canal was of course the crown jewel (no pun intended) of this cruise, and it was an absolutely amazing day, from start to finish. We also had a number of wonderful port days (and some that we could have skipped.)

 

In the posts that follow, I'll address the usual review subjects, including the food (highly subjective), entertainment, ports, etc. Please of course feel free to ask questions, and I'll answer them if I can.

 

Gatun%20locks%201024x683_zpsekwewkzw.jpg

 

(photo by turtles06)

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Our home away from home for 16 nights was this wonderful SE Penthouse suite under the bridge. I realize that we are quite fortunate to have been able to book this, and I know that it greatly enhanced our enjoyment of this very special cruise. We had last sailed on the Jewel in 2010, and we were pleased to find that our stateroom was in great shape. Before booking, we had debated Deck 9 v. Deck 10, and decided to go with Deck 10 because of the greater interior space; that full couch/bay window area was very welcome over the course of more than two weeks. Yes, the balconies of the SEs on Deck 9 are bigger, but our Deck 10 balcony was plently big, especially for two people.

 

There turned out to be an added bonus to this cabin location -- no light pollution at night (no lights in the bow) and thus terrific star gazing. We saw the Milky Way just about every night, and -- this was thrilling -- the Southern Cross in the wee hours before dawn in the days before our Canal transit.

 

10500%201024x683_zps3luijany.jpg

 

(photo by turtles06)

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Oh, I've been waiting for your review Turtles06! So glad you had a great cruise, despite getting sick. Sorry to hear that. Hope you liked the Panama Canal as much as we did when we cruised on the Sun. Can't wait to hear about your day in Antigua! And I hope you got that Panama Canal day balcony breakfast! ;)

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My wife and I returned last Sunday from the Jewel's 16-night westbound Panama Canal cruise, Miami to LA, Jan. 20-Feb. 5, 2017. So as not to bury the lede, I'll start by saying that we had a fabulous time, notwithstanding the dreaded lurgy that was going around the ship and that we contracted in the waning days of the cruise. We are still sick and still have hacking coughs; in fact, I can't recall the last time we were this sick.

 

Putting that aside, we really did have a great time. The staff and crew were terrific, and we met many wonderful people through our Roll Call and on board.

 

We booked this particular itinerary (a rather unique one, given the 16 nights v. the typical 14) because we were able to secure our "dream cabin" for the Panama Canal: a forward-facing SE Penthouse suite directly under the bridge. (Also, this was a celebratory cruise, so a splurge was in order. Or, as the British say with much greater flair, "we splashed out.")

 

The transit of the Canal was of course the crown jewel (no pun intended) of this cruise, and it was an absolutely amazing day, from start to finish. We also had a number of wonderful port days (and some that we could have skipped.)

 

In the posts that follow, I'll address the usual review subjects, including the food (highly subjective), entertainment, ports, etc. Please of course feel free to ask questions, and I'll answer them if I can.

 

Gatun%20locks%201024x683_zpsekwewkzw.jpg

 

(photo by turtles06)

 

What did they have in the Fyzz lounge each evening?

 

Steve

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Oh, I've been waiting for your review Turtles06! So glad you had a great cruise, despite getting sick. Sorry to hear that. Hope you liked the Panama Canal as much as we did when we cruised on the Sun. Can't wait to hear about your day in Antigua! And I hope you got that Panama Canal day balcony breakfast! ;)

 

Thanks SeahawkSiren, and thanks again for your helpful review. (BTW, no special breakfast on Canal day of which we were aware. Hmm...)

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Let's get the very subjective subject of food out of the way early. This was our 8th cruise on NCL, and, let's face it, you don't sail NCL for the food, at least we don't. Overall, we found the food on this cruise to be just okay, nothing spectacular, no meal where we said "wasn't that a terrific meal."

 

We had a four-dinner specialty dining promo, plus two dinners each in Le Bistro or La Cucina as Platinum Latitudes members. (This was our first cruise at the Platinum level.) During the course of 16 days, we ate in most of the venues on board. Here's our overall take on each of them.

 

Tsar's Palace: this is the larger MDR, a majestic space on the Jewel-class ships that I particularly enjoy. Unfortunately, on this sailing, the lights in Tsar's Palace were turned up so high as to eliminate any ambiance and make the place seem like an overly-lit-up diner. When I asked the Restaurant Manager about this, he said that it was because the average age of the passengers on board was 64.5 and they got complaints that people could not read the menus if the lights were turned down at all. (Really, I am not making that up.) We had two dinners at Tsar's fairly early on; the service was pretty poor. Add that to the operating room lighting and we never went back.

 

Azura: this is the smaller MDR. Having fled Tsar's, we were happy to find the lighting as it should be for dinner, plus far better service. The food in the MDRs was okay. The good service at Azura helped make for pleasant dinners there.

The Garden Cafe buffet: What a disappointment. We actually enjoy eating in the buffet, so our feelings about the buffet on this cruise are not based on any anti-buffet snobbery. The food just never seemed very appealing. We really loved the buffet on the Gem a year ago, and wound up having many nice dinners there. Not so on the Jewel on this sailing. (We did enjoy the self-serve soft serve ice cream, though. :))

 

O'Sheehans: to our surprise, we wound up eating more meals here than we thought we would, as this turned out to be a good go-to place for a meal when we returned from a shore excursion in mid-afternoon. We particularly enjoyed the wings and the burgers. The tuna sandwich was good, and I also liked their "corned beef sandwich," which turned out to be a Reuben. (Really, if you are serving a Reuben, you should say so on the menu, as it's more than a corned beef sandwich.)

 

Teppanyaki: we've always enjoyed eating here once per cruise, and our dinner on the Jewel did not disappoint. Love the shrimp and filet. (The green tea ice cream dessert is awful; we learned that long ago and have not touched it since.)

 

Cagney's: we've previously considered Cagney's to be overrated, and so we were pleasantly surprised with how much we enjoyed our dinner here this time around. We each had the bone-in ribeye, which was a pretty impressive piece of meat, and the sides were terrific. My wife's Oreo cheesecake dessert was fantatistic and, hands down, the best dessert of the entire cruise.

 

Le Bistro: we ate here as one of our Platinum dinners. (As we learned on Cruise Critic well before sailing, NCL now rewards its most loyal customers by limiting them to three of the four courses on the menu. I point this out not because I need more food, but because I think its chintzy to tell your most loyal customers that they have to choose between an appetizer and a soup/salad.) In the past, we've enjoyed Le Bistro a great deal, but not so much this time. I think we are getting tired of the fairly limited menu, and also the food isn't what it once was. The mushroom soup used to be spectacular; it no longer is. We had intended to eat our second Platinum dinner here, but instead opted for....

 

...La Cucina: Having eaten once at La Cucina years ago and found it to be fairly humdrum, we hadn't been back since. But with a 16-night cruise, we needed more variety, and once we decided we had no interest in a second dinner at Le Bistro, we decided to give La Cucina another go. We enjoyed our meal; the pasta was a nice change from the meat-dominated menus of most of the other specialty restaurants.

 

Speaking of meat....

 

Moderno: We ate here twice on the Jewel, and had eaten at Moderno twice before on the Gem. All four times we found the meats very disapointing. Fairly low quality, often tough, and often cold. Even when we specifically ordered certain meats, they were still served to us cold. Yes, the salad bar is nice (not as much on the Jewel as it was on the Gem), and the papaya cream dessert is tasty, but we've decided that we are done with Moderno. I don't think Moderno is busy enough for NCL to really pull off the churrascaria concept, with lots of properly cooked meats coming around in sufficient volume. There has to be a better use for this space for dinner.

 

As I said, food is very subjective; the opinions above are our personal reactions. I recognize that others may have a very different take on the same venue.

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Thanks for taking the time to post your review. I love the first photo in your report of the Princess cruise ship in the lock in front of you, great picture.

 

I had to chuckle when you mentioned the lighting in the Tsar’s Palace. Although I’ve never voiced a complaint, I have been known to use my smart phone to illuminate a menu. Yep, I’m an old fart.

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Thanks for taking the time to post your review. I love the first photo in your report of the Princess cruise ship in the lock in front of you, great picture.

 

I had to chuckle when you mentioned the lighting in the Tsar’s Palace. Although I’ve never voiced a complaint, I have been known to use my smart phone to illuminate a menu. Yep, I’m an old fart.

 

Thanks for the kind words.

 

As for Tsar's Palace, we did suggest to the Restaurant Manager that they turn down the lights and put little flashlights on the tables. :)

 

We're old farts too. My wife needed an iPhone flashlight to see the menu in La Cucina. Still, Tsar's was far too bright.

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As on most cruise ships, the entertainment on the Jewel was a mixed bag. The nightly shows in the theatre of course came straight out of the cruise ship entertainment tool kit. If you’ve cruised before, you’ve seen them all before: some production shows (meh), a couple of comedians (lame), a hypnotist (so dull, not sure why we keep trying to sit through that first half hour), the requisite Russian married couple aerialists (not enough material for their own show, but they were spectacular in Le Cirque Bijou), a magician/comic (very talented), and several “vocalists” (my wife refuses to go to any more shows featuring people who call themselves “vocalists”).

 

Two shows in the theatre really stood out. The first was the crew talent show, which featured a member of the galley staff who turned out to have an incredible singing voice. He brought the crowd to its feet with "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." Quite frankly, he was far better than anyone who performed at Magnums; NCL should move him there. The crew talent show concluded with a performance of Fountains, which I thought had been discontinued a couple of years ago (for health reasons). We’d never seen it before; I have to say, it was gross but totally hysterical.

 

And then, on the penultimate night of the cruise, the production company performed something called Le Cirque Bijou, which was quite wonderful and really showed off the talents of some terrifically strong and nimble artists. This was a don't miss. At the end of the show, representatives of the staff and crew came on stage to be thanked for their fabulous work over the past two weeks.

 

Le%20Cirque%20Bijou%201024x837_zpscecbpn5y.jpg

 

Iain, the Cruise Director, did an excellent job throughout the cruise. He’s a funny guy, and a talented magician in his own right. He did a couple of very entertaining magic shows in the theatre.

 

We were disappointed by the solo musicians who played in Magnums. One guy just could not carry a tune. He covered very well known songs, but you were hard pressed to figure out what they were.

 

There was a terrific band on board called The Tropical Four, and the music out at the pool during the day (other musicians as well) was a nice backdrop. There were some music parties on the pool deck at night, and food was served at the outdoor buffet station. Very nice but poorly attended from what we could see; the ship was pretty buttoned up by ten PM.

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Apologies for the delay in adding to this thread. I'm still not fully recovered from the virus I caught on the Jewel two weeks ago; the cough is nagging and persistent. It may be some form of flu; but I'm calling it the Central America Monkey Virus!

 

Returning to happier thoughts.... Our transit of the Panama Canal was as fascinating and spectacular as we'd hoped it would be. In preparation for the trip, my wife and I had each read "The Path Between the Seas" by David McCullough. It truly made us appreciate even more the extraordinary challenges of building the Canal, and I think it's a must-read for anyone visiting the Canal.

 

On Canal Day, the crew were up early setting up canopies and refreshments in the bow area on Deck 8. This area is normally off limits to passengers, but was opened up for the transit. From our balcony on Deck 10 above, I could see people starting to claim their spots around 6am. The ship had a narrator on board for the transit; his narration was broadcast into the public areas and on the cabin TVs.

 

We had a very sunny, hot, and humid day for the transit, totally expected for the dry season in Panama. The transit took the entire day, and was just spectacular. Here (and in posts below, since there's a photo limit per post) are just a few of the many photos that I took.

 

On our approach to the Gatun locks, we first have to pass the new Atlantic Bridge, which is under construction:

 

Atlantic%20Bridge%20approach%201024x556_zpsbjoa9h9g.jpg

 

The little creek-like inlet is all that you can see of the original French excavation:

Remnants%20of%20French%20excavation%201024x585_zps7olymk8y.jpg

 

Gatun locks, three chambers where we'll be lifted up a total of 85 feet (the Island Princess is in front of us):

We%20enter%20first%20Gatun%201024x651_zpspspuvut8.jpg

 

Gates open for us in Gatun locks:

Gates%20open%201st%20Gatun%201024x683_zpsubfz4x89.jpg

 

Only two feet on each side separate us from the lock wall! (Note one of the "mules" -- the electric locomotives -- that help keep our ship centered in the locks.)

Mule%20in%20Gatun%20and%20Ship%201024x683_zpsv4pmxnl7.jpg

 

Gatun

Gatun%20locks%201024x683_zpsekwewkzw.jpg

Edited by Turtles06
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Having left the Gatun locks, we are now in the midst of Gatun Lake, which takes a few hours to cross. It was a good time for lunch. And a terrific time to see lots of commercial traffic coming toward us from the Pacific.

In%20Gatun%20Lake%203%201024x579_zpscy9xdzit.jpg

 

The Continental Divide, with Centennial Bridge in the background. Imagine what it took to chop through the mountain range dividing North America, and then create a canal that could remain open to ship traffic!

Continental%20Divide%201024x589_zps4p6aqlbb.jpg

 

Approaching the Pedro Miguel locks on the Pacific side,where we will begin our descent back to sea level.

 

We%20approach%20Pedro%20Miguel%201024x572_zpsmndccdeq.jpg

 

The Island Princess leaving Pedro Miguel:

Island%20Princess%20Pedro%20Miguel%202%201024x683_zpsuerxdmmg.jpg

 

Approaching the two chambers of the Miraflores locks:

We%20enter%20Miraflores%201024x683_zpsqqgckgoh.jpg

 

With the sun starting to set, the Island Princess leaves the Miraflores locks, headed for the Pacific Ocean:

Island%20Princess%20leaving%20Miraflores%201024x795_zpshcuvxcz6.jpg

Edited by Turtles06
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Hi all!

 

Turtles06 ~ enjoying your review as I'm going through the Canal on the Bliss in Nov 2018. Guess I better finally read that book but it's so thick!:o

 

DH & I were in Panama the other day (Feb 15th) sitting at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort riverside restaurant when we had the good fortune to view Jewel during its transit, what a thrill!

 

Thanks for doing a review.

 

~ Jo ~ :)

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Hi all!

 

Turtles06 ~ enjoying your review as I'm going through the Canal on the Bliss in Nov 2018. Guess I better finally read that book but it's so thick!:o

 

 

 

Thanks for the kind words.

 

Yes, McCullough's book is quite long (he's a great writer, but it was still a bit of a slog in places) -- but you must read it! :) Really, you'll appreciate the transit so much more!

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Thanks for the kind words.

 

Yes, McCullough's book is quite long (he's a great writer, but it was still a bit of a slog in places) -- but you must read it! :) Really, you'll appreciate the transit so much more!

 

 

Thanks for the great review and pics!!!

 

We were on the Island Princess ahead of you. We got a chance to chat with our old friend Klaus Pasher at one of the ports, also. He was the hotel director on the Jewel.

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Thanks for the great review and pics!!!

 

We were on the Island Princess ahead of you. We got a chance to chat with our old friend Klaus Pasher at one of the ports, also. He was the hotel director on the Jewel.

 

Small world and thanks for the kind words. (Hope you enjoyed having pics of your transit! :))

 

We got to meet Klaus on the Jewel and we spoke with him a number of times. I thought he was great, and clearly he does an excellent job, given how well-run everything was and how wonderful the cruise was. I was glad to see him on deck when we disembarked and be able to thank him at the end.

 

It was fun playing tag-team with the Island Princess for a few days. Bonus pic for you: both of our ships in Cartagena (taken from La Popa):

 

Jewel%20amp%20Island%20Princess%201024x629_zpshpvl7qdd.jpg

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As I've mentioned, our cruise was 16 nights long, not NCL's usual 14 for its Panama Canal cruises. We had a total of 9 port calls, 8 of those coming in the 11 days after the Canal transit, including one stretch of 5 ports in 5 days. This made the post-Canal portion of the cruise quite port intensive and a bit tiring. We'd have been much happier with some additional sea days. Some of the ports (like Puerto Chiapas, Mexico and Corinto, Nicaragua) are not frequently visited by cruise ships, and, imho, could have been skipped. But we had some great ports as well. In the posts that follow, I'll let you know what we did where, and include some photos.

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The first port on our cruise, and the only pre-Canal port, was Cartagena, Colombia, a short visit from 7am to 2pm. Not the best timing. It's my understanding that we called at Cartagena only to fulfill the legal requirement of the PVSA (Passenger Vessel Services Act) that we stop at a "distant foreign port" because we were sailing between two different American cities. None of the ports in Central America or Mexico is a "distant foreign port" under the PVSA.

 

The dawn sail-in to Cartagena was quite lovely:

 

Cartagena%20at%20sunrise%201024x480_zpsce9gkjh2.jpg

 

Having researched private tour operators in Cartagena before our cruise, I set up a private excursion for 8 of us on our Roll Call with Dora De Zubiria (aka "Dora the Explorer"), who is highly recommended here on Cruise Critic, and for good reason. She was easy to deal with by email, and we had a wonderful tour with her that started at the heights of La Popa and then took us into the old walled city. Old Cartagena is colorful and beautiful; it reminded me of some small cities we've visited in Spain, as well as Old San Juan, with its colorful streets and fortifications.

 

View%20from%20La%20Popa%201024x415_zpsnwj4ezj2.jpg

 

Cartagena%20street%201024x674_zpsfynnwnwj.jpg

 

 

Old%20Fort%201024x513_zpsqhfwrgku.jpg

 

Cartagena%20Mural%201024x709_zps0oe2nzgy.jpg

 

Cartagena%20guard%20house%201024x779_zpscmuyikxf.jpg

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