Jump to content

NCL Joy Inaugural Panama Canal Cruise Review 10/11-10/27

Recommended Posts

Leading up to this cruise, I found a lot of information from everyone here so I wanted to do a review of the Joy in hopes to help others.


Some background on us and the cruise:

We are in our early 30's and were in a Haven H6 room. This was our first time in the Haven and was our 15th cruise, 8th with NCL (6 with Carnival, 1 with Royal Caribbean). We have not cruised another line since 2016 and do prefer NCL (we are currently Platinum and only a few cruises away from Platinum Plus). We generally prefer larger ships over smaller (have sailed Bliss, Breakaway, Epic, Escape & Getaway). We also prefer longer cruises and always try for 10+ days (4 days on the Sun to Cuba in May was just too short!). Since lately we usually go on longer cruises, we are generally some of the youngest cruisers besides children. This really doesn't bother us as we aren't looking to party until 3am anyway. This cruise was no exception and we found that there were not many people our age at all, especially in the Haven.


We originally booked this cruise last October while on the Escape, choosing an aft balcony room. We monitored the price of the Haven and ended up calling and upgrading about 2 months prior to sailing because it had dropped a bit. At the time, there were 6 H6 rooms left but we didn't want to chance waiting any longer. Unfortunately, the price did end up dropping another $1,000 per person. We did call NCL and were given $250 total in on board credit which was nice. It was worth the peace of mind knowing we got the room we wanted (12956) without having to worry or wait to see if we got upgraded.


With just a few weeks prior to sailing, we noticed our cruise disappeared from ncl.com and in our portal it said "default itinerary" when the other cruises we are booked on said the correct title of the cruise. We thought that it was possibly sold out, but the day prior there were a LOT of rooms left. I ended up calling and they said there were rooms left and they didn't know why it was not showing on the website. It took about a few days to find out that they had changed the itinerary, canceling Costa Rica, replacing it with Acapulco and changing the day we were in Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala. I never received an email notifying me of the change, but my cruise-mate did. One thing NCL is not good at is communication. On the role call, many people did not receive the email notification either and some literally only found out by reading the role call and the conversation there. We did receive our Haven mail about 50 days out from sailing, including our letter including the concierge information and our luggage tags. We did not request anything ahead of time because a. we figured we'd just do it on board and b. we really didn't know what to request prior. 


Truthfully, we did most things in the Haven (dining, relaxing, drinking) and didn't eat at any of the MDR's at all and only had snacks at the buffet twice. We also only dined at the Local 3 times (usually we eat there more than that on a 7 day cruise). It was a different (but welcomed) experience not dining at any of these places. We were a bit disappointed to not have tried any of the MDR's, though. Even though it was a 16 night cruise, we still weren't able to do everything we wanted to. I know that sounds silly but time really did fly by on the ship and there is generally a lot to do! We did run short of things to do toward the end of the cruise with a couple of nights where there was nothing in the Freestyle Daily that interested us at all. There's usually at least one or two things that we want to do, but I think since it was so long they were running short on activities and what they had was really geared to a much older crowd. 


I am going to take the next several days to post about the ship, the Haven, the ports, the activities onboard, etc. and will try to answer any questions anyone may have!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Our Free at Sea offers included the Drink Package, 5 Specialty Dining Meals, $50 in Shore Excursion Credits and 250 Minutes in Wi-Fi. When we booked last year, we had a special with ship to shore minutes, unlimited Wi-Fi and a pre-cruise hotel credit. We lost all of these when we upgraded to the Haven, but we figured then that it was still worth it and it definitely proved to be. We also had 2 Specialty Dining Meals for being Platinum, so we had 7 total. I did need to do some work, so we upgraded from the 250 mins. of Wi-Fi to Unlimited once we got onboard. The cost of this was about $275, after they gave us credit of $125 for our 250 minutes. It was the same price onboard as it was online prior to sailing. 



Link to post
Share on other sites

Day 1:

The night before, we stayed on the Queen Mary. It was a cool experience overall. We had rented a car, so we went from the Queen Mary to port to drop off our luggage prior to dropping off our rental car. The port was chaotic as it was around 8:30am and people were obviously still disembarking. It made me a tad nervous that our luggage would somehow get mixed up with those disembarking since we were so early. We then dropped our rental car off at Hertz in San Pedro around 8:30am, grabbed a coffee at a cafe next to Hertz and relaxed for a bit and then took the Hertz shuttle over to the port around 9:30am. 


We were dropped off out front and there was a long line under a tent waiting to be let inside of the port to check in. I must say, it was a pretty chaotic port and scene overall. We've sailed several times out of NYC, Port Canaveral, Port Everglades, Miami and San Juan and I would say this was the most disorganized and chaotic. I went to ask an employee if there was a separate Haven area and the second I did, she got very excited and told me to bypass the line right away. I went to grab my cruise mate and the line started to move. We went to the front and were yelled at by many people. I told them we were in the Haven and they calmed right down and said "oh ok!" An elderly lady did push us and then cut in front of us while waiting to go through security because she wasn't having it. We just laughed and let her be. We were the first ones to check in for the Haven. The area wasn't set up quite yet. It was pretty small and honestly pretty dirty. About 45 minutes into our wait, they put some food out. They introduced us to the Concierge quickly in the waiting room. We waited a little over an hour and were escorted onto the ship around 11am, going directly to the Haven. They ushered us into the Haven Observation lounge where there were waiters passing out drinks and sliders/snacks. The sliders were amazing. If you don't have the beverage package, the Haven welcome drinks were free as they didn't ask for our cards or anything. Our concierge introduced himself again and explained some of the Haven and told us that we could have lunch at American Diner for free. We decided to go check out our room first since we were very excited to see it. It was amazing. It was so large and beautiful. After that, we headed to the American Diner for lunch. It was decent, about what I expected. The lobster roll and nachos were very good. I would not recommend the mozzarella sticks, the fried seafood platter was ok. We prefer Margaritaville, mainly because I love tequila and margaritas and their nachos are amazing. We really didn't see many people at American Diner throughout the cruise. It must be working if they keep adding it to their ships, though. Rooms were ready around 1pm. We explored the Haven in the afternoon and grabbed a few drinks at the bar and hung out at the sundeck, where there was a waitress taking drink orders. Not many people were in the Haven. I will say the Haven layout is a bit odd, especially upstairs. There's a door from the upper pool area that leads directly into Vibe. The door isn't locked, so we walked out there and realized we weren't in the Haven Sun Deck. A worker told us we were in Vibe as we probably looked confused. We walked around Vibe and got a good glimpse. It's nice how they have a bar up there.


Some of our luggage arrived at 4pm, the last piece not until 6pm. I did call the Concierge to check on it as I thought we'd receive pretty early since we were in the Haven. They were helpful but they probably thought I was over-reacting to my luggage not arriving by 6pm! Of course, it was the piece with all of my clothing in it and I wanted to change prior to dinner. Our butler, Mansor, introduced himself around 4pm and provided us with some information. The snacks waiting for us included chocolate covered strawberries (yum) and some finger sandwiches which weren't really good. Mansor asked what we liked to eat and we told him no sandwiches, but salty snacks (chips/pretzels/nuts) and chocolate covered strawberries would be great. 


We had dinner in the Haven Restaurant. It was very very slow (the only time all cruise that we felt it was slow). The food was great, which I will explain more about later. That night, we explored the ship. We went to District Brew House as I was hoping they'd have Alaskan Pale Ale on tap like they did on the Bliss in Alaska last summer, as the Joy just came from Alaska. I saw the TV menu and it said they had it and then I saw the tap. I couldn't wait to order it as I loved it on the Bliss. Unfortunately, they were all out 😞  The bartender gave me a different beer from that brewery in a bottle but I didn't like it. We went to the welcome aboard show which consisted of 2 comedians. It was very boring and we actually left before it was over which we hate doing. It just seemed like a waste of time sitting there. We went to Q where I got the Smoked Peach Margarita that they have on tap. The country band was playing (Marie Wise Hawkins). There were only a few people there. I think it is a cool venue to hang out at but it always seems to be fairly empty (it was when we were on the Bliss also). We went to check out the Galaxy Pavilion and were the only ones there. It was a cool space and a good idea, but didn't prove to be very popular with the demographic on our cruise. We met our room steward, Andrian, and requested towel animals, as we enjoy them. He proved to be amazing throughout the week!


Haven Waiting Area in San Pedro




Ship in port.jpg

Link to post
Share on other sites

Room - H6 Balcony (12926)


Our room & balcony were amazing. Yes, it was a hike to the Haven but we didn't mind and it gave us some extra exercise and was well worth the walk. It really only took about 5 minutes and we generally took the stairs. The balcony was huge (about 24' x 11') with 2 loungers and a table with 4 chairs. The living area was quite large as well. There was plenty of closet & storage space, which was welcomed on a 16 night cruise. The bathroom was large with a soaking tub, but the shower was pretty small. Still larger than a normal stateroom shower. It had jets in the wall and of course, the Bvlgari amenities which were nice but I'm not super picky about that stuff. We also had an additional full bathroom in the entryway which was extremely small but was nice to have an extra option. Our fresh flowers were delivered later in the afternoon and lasted well over a week. The coffee maker was convenient (I don't really drink much coffee) and the bar area was stocked with plates/silverware/etc. The bedroom had cool ceiling and floor LED lighting and was a good size overall. We didn't really like the drawers/closet doors. You had to push them all to open/close and oftentimes it didn't work the first time. Nothing major, but I wonder how it will be in a few years when it's already not working properly.


Entrance/Living Area499878978_RoomLiving.thumb.JPG.cb7ffe3ab5613f965ae8a5e48836c231.JPG















Link to post
Share on other sites

Haven Restaurant 


The Haven was the highlight of our trip (besides the Panama Canal, of course!). I do feel like we didn't take full advantage of the ship (and the amazing balcony) because we spent so much time in the Haven, but that's ok. The entire Haven staff were AMAZING. Special shout outs in the Haven Restaurant go to Soledad (Haven Restaurant Hostess) and Agness, Cedric, Timothy & Eunice (Haven waitstaff). They were all incredible and truly made us feel special and made our vacation better. We ate nearly every meal here and even canceled our 2nd night at Cagney's and did a lunch at Food Republic just so we could eat dinner in the Haven. Since it was a long cruise, they did offer specials on certain sea days both at lunch and at dinner. I can't say enough about how great the restaurant and its staff truly were. We requested creme brulee for dessert and they had it for us the next night. They also made my cruise mate a special Filipino dish that he requested after other cruisers we spoke to had mentioned they requested it. We didn't know you could request something special like that, so it was nice and turned out to be delicious and greatly appreciated. Unfortunately, we did not get any photos of the restaurant except for the outdoor dining space which we utilized quite a bit.



Haven Bar


Special shout outs in the Haven Bar go to Lester & AJ (bartenders) and Petar (Haven Bar Waiter). These guys were amazing and truly felt like friends by the end of the cruise. We did end up spending more time at this bar than we've ever spent at any other bar on any cruise. We generally aren't big drinkers but this bar was amazing due to the staff. We also made friends during the cruise and this would generally be our meet up spot. Lester & AJ both made delicious drinks and AJ entertained with magic tricks and some bottle throwing tricks. He was very entertaining. Lester closed the bar every night and the last week of the cruise, I think we were there with him every single night closing the bar. He would make us all special shots that were so good. I am not a huge shot guy, but everything he made was delicious. They also made their own spicy tequila by placing cut up jalapenos in tequila and I enjoyed many spicy margaritas and spicy raspberry margaritas throughout the 16 days. The spicy raspberry margs were amazing and Lester even alluded to the fact that I may have had something to do with the fact that they ran out of fresh raspberries during the cruise because I had so many and got so many people hooked on them as well! They would basically make anything you wanted. For those of you who recall previous Le Bistro menus, their Signature Cocktail was the Emperor's Nectar. This is no longer on the menu and my cruise mate loved it. Lester was able to make it and it was delicious. We didn't necessarily utilize the special cocktail compass drink menu in the Haven but several times we did ask Lester to make us a special drink because he got to know what we liked throughout the cruise. He ended up making me a spicy peach marg which was similar to what they have in Q but fresher and much tastier. He used mezcal and a dash of the spicy tequila in making it. 


Haven Bar Menu







Emperor's Nectar



Spicy Raspberry Margaritas (AMAZING)



Smoked Peach Margarita



Lester & Petar



Lemon Drop Martinis & Mini Beer Shots



More Shots from Lester




Link to post
Share on other sites

Haven Complex Photos


Haven Lounge - always plenty of seating and a great place to hang out, especially if the bar is packed



Haven Bar



Indoor Pool 







Sun Deck - Generally there were always a few chairs available but the beds fill up pretty quickly. The hot tubs were occupied pretty regularly throughout the week. 






Haven Sundeck.jpg

Link to post
Share on other sites

Haven Observation Lounge


The Observation Lounge was generally quiet and not busy. Seating was always plentiful. We never really figured out the schedule of when snacks were out, but we did catch them several times throughout the cruise. The snacks were good if you wanted a quick bite to eat. The coffee maker in the Observation Lounge was great. I ended up getting a cup of ice at the bar and making iced drinks several times, as I don't like hot drinks. There was no need to make a trip to Starbucks because the coffee/espresso machine was that good.













Link to post
Share on other sites
43 minutes ago, ColeThornton said:

Wow, look at that balcony.  It's like being on your own personal yacht.


Yes, it was amazing. We didn't use it as much as we should have, though! I'll get to pics of enjoying breakfast on the balcony while going through the Panama Canal--that was one of the highlights of the cruise.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Love all the pics!  Especially the info about San Pedro...not sure how I will feel about cutting the security line...they should have a Haven line.  

I'll be on the Joy in just over a month in a forward facing suite H8.  I am thinking I will be spending a ton of time up there in the Haven area too!

Link to post
Share on other sites
16 hours ago, nyc2pdx said:

Love all the pics!  Especially the info about San Pedro...not sure how I will feel about cutting the security line...they should have a Haven line.  

I'll be on the Joy in just over a month in a forward facing suite H8.  I am thinking I will be spending a ton of time up there in the Haven area too!

Yes, you definitely will spend quite a bit of time up there. We seriously miss everyone there. They were amazing.


Friends we made on the cruise had an H8 and we got to check it out. It is a nice room as well. The bathroom was bigger than ours, especially the shower. You will definitely enjoy it. It was a great ship and a great vacation. San Pedro was definitely interesting, just be prepared to defend yourself if you have to cut the line!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi.   Ill be in Joy and in a 2br villa in March.   Curious about the posted Haven bar menus which show pricing on right side for premium plus.   I have the basic drink package with values up to 15 bucks.  The drink prices on those right hand side menus showed amounts ranging from 5 to 20.   Are those the prices I pay above the 15 dollar value?  

Link to post
Share on other sites
9 minutes ago, Pgbear said:

Hi.   Ill be in Joy and in a 2br villa in March.   Curious about the posted Haven bar menus which show pricing on right side for premium plus.   I have the basic drink package with values up to 15 bucks.  The drink prices on those right hand side menus showed amounts ranging from 5 to 20.   Are those the prices I pay above the 15 dollar value?  

Yes, for the right side you’d pay the dollar amounts listed. The prices are taking the $15 that the regular package allows out. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks.  My wife doesn’t drink so drink package is lost on her.   And I don’t want to drop 500 to upgrade to premium plus for just me.  So I’ll pay the difference when I elect to go with a premium.   

Link to post
Share on other sites

Haven Concierge 


While the Haven bar and restaurant staff were amazing, the concierge was not in my opinion. I will say the few things we asked were done immediately (change a dinner reservation or two, cancel a shore excursion, book laser tag), the staff was overall very unfriendly and seemingly fake. Dillip was kind and would visit us at dinner at our specialty restaurants, but the assistants were very fake. Gretel would only say hello to us if her boss, Dillip was there. We aren't very needy people, so maybe others found them more beneficial to us, but their attitudes were really a turn off. I overheard other guests complaining about them as well and the friends we made on the ship were less than impressed as well. 


Ship Activities 

The Galaxy Pavilion was cool. They had several free tournaments during the cruise which you could sign up and play for free to win prizes. We did the race car one, but were both knocked out at round 1. It seemed fairly well attended. There were 3 heats of 6 people I believe. The top 2 or 3 progressed. Due to the demographic of the cruise, I don't think the area was utilized much over the 16 days.


We played Laser Tag twice. We went to our first session and were the only 2 people playing, so we had them reschedule us for a time that others were booked. We went to that time and played with 2 older couples and had fun. Unfortunately, it wasn't working properly and we don't know who won. We went to play again with friends we made and there was a decent amount of people playing and it ended up being a great time. However, it was not working again and we don't know who won. They did not charge us for this one since it was broken they said. They did charge us for the previous one, even though it had the same problem. We really didn't care, though. Just odd.


We did the go karts early on and that was fun. We had done them on the Bliss and they were essentially the same. We waited much less time than we did on the Bliss and got on fairly quickly. They are always a good time. We watched others and there was a child that probably shouldn't have been allowed to ride alone. She was holding everyone up and going extremely slow and crashing at every corner. I would have been highly annoyed had I been racing with her.


We heard the water slides were really good but never tried them. They seemed pretty popular throughout the cruise. 


The game shows were the usual cruise ship games - Deal or No Deal, Newlywed Game, Wheel of Ill Will, etc. They were fun to watch and someone won the top prize of $1,000 on Deal or No Deal. I actually got called to play in 2 of them, which a. I rarely try and b. I never get called when I do. I won the first one which was like a Press Your Luck type show and got a t-shirt and the Wheel of ill Will I got a koozy for playing. The entertainment staff did pretty well with the shows. 

The specialty nights held in Spice H20 and the main pool deck were decent. There was a 50's and 60's Sock Hop which seemed indicative of the demographic, Latin night, The White Party, Glow Night, Masquerade Party, Motown party, 90's Throwback party, etc. There were plenty of events in the evening. The few that we went to weren't extremely busy but there were definitely people there enjoying themselves. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Day 2 - Sea Day


We went to the Haven for breakfast as usual. It was really good, but a tad slow. We walked through the buffet which was busy at 930 but there were plenty of tables free. We went to the shops onboard and all of their merchandise was Alaska products  which didn't make sense since the Joy won't be back there until next spring. We also always buy an ornament of the ship and they did not have any, nor key chains (which we could make an ornament if need be). We hung out at the Haven and laid out and the wait service on the sun deck was intermittent, but there. Not many chairs were available come 11am. I wish they had a water station at the Haven Sun Deck so you could grab water quickly and easily. We went back to our room to realize some of our outlets were not working. We called Guest Services and they said an electrician has to come, which happened within a few hours and all was good again. We did the go karts and then went back to hang in the Haven. We had dinner at Le Bistro, which was good as always, both the food and the service. A man checking in in front of us wasn't allowed in due to his sandals. We used our platinum dining here and got an app, dinner and dessert each as well as a bottle of wine. That night we went to the show which was Divas3 show. It was excellent. I wish they did shows a few nights. They had great voices. I always hate when the ship plays "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic and they did this song. They did preface it with a joke about singing it but I'm still not a fan on a cruise ship, personally. We ordered a few apps from room service from the MDR because they were items we really enjoy. I called our butler to ask and he seemed a bit put out. He said "You do know the menu changes every night so they may not have these items." Well, yes I do know this and I clearly looked at the menu which is why I called to order these things... That was the only negative I had to say about our butler really, other than we only saw him 4 times over the 16 days. We went to Q to listen to the country band and get a smoked peach margarita. The band throughout our cruise was the Marie Wise Hawkins band. They were really good but they played the same songs over and over. We only stayed a maximum of 30 minutes each time and I don't think we went a single time after the first night that they didn't play something we'd already heard them play from a previous night, which was kind of odd. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Day 3 - Cabo San Lucas

We woke up to heavy rain, which fortunately came to an end. We had an excursion at 10, so were a bit nervous about the weather.  We ran up to the Haven observation for a quick breakfast because we didn't have time to eat and there was no food out unfortunately. We had to meet in the Manhattan Room and it was extremely chaotic when we got there because many excursions were canceled due to the weather. We decided to go to the Haven and try to get off on one of the first tenders. The concierge knew we were booked on a shore excursion and told us we couldn't because we don't know where we are meeting so we went back to Manhattan. We waited until 10:30 and got in line and lead right to the tender, which was a quick ride. Our excursion was the Mexican Outback & Camel Ride. It was an an hour and 15 minutes until we actually got on the bus from our meeting time with about a 50 minute bus ride. The bus was playing some odd music--90's, the song from Grease, 80's music, etc. It was fine, but very random. We had a great time with the camels. The ride was cool and there were nice photo opportunities with them. You aren't allow to take photos yourself. We ended with a buffet lunch, which was very good. There was plenty of food and beverages, including beer. They did a tequila demo and tasting as well. To purchase the photos, started at $64.We spent $74 and got all of the photos of the camel ride and the ones of us with the camel air dropped to us and 2 print outs, which was fairly reasonable. The photos came out great and were definitely worth it. It was an awesome excursion and I'd recommend doing it for sure. We went to Ocean blue for dinner. This was our first time dining here and it was absolutely delicious. We both had the filet and lobster tail which was good. We enjoyed it so much that we booked it for another night. The raspberry cheesecake in a jar was the best dessert I’ve had on a cruise. We were informed at night that our Puerto Vallarta shore excursion time changed for the next day, which was a common occurrence as we had another one change times as well later in the cruise. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Sounds like you had a really sub par butler.  His/her job is to say 'yes' and make your cruise stress free.  That fact he lectured you on the menu is disgraceful.  Only seeing him 4 days out of 16 warrants a tip of zero from me, as well as a conversation with Dillip about a below average butler.  This should not happen considering all the money you pay for a haven cabin.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Forum Jump
    • Categories
      • Forum Assistance
      • Q&A with Chris Prelog, President of Windstar Cruises!
      • Register Now for Cruise Critic Live Special Event: Royal Caribbean
      • New Cruisers
      • Cruise Lines “A – O”
      • Cruise Lines “P – Z”
      • River Cruising
      • ROLL CALLS
      • Digital Photography & Cruise Technology
      • Special Interest Cruising
      • Cruise Discussion Topics
      • UK Cruising
      • Australia & New Zealand Cruisers
      • North American Homeports
      • Ports of Call
      • Cruise Conversations
  • Create New...