I've been two times through Panamy Canal, both with Mercury (Celebrity)
The first time was in December 2001, from FL to Santiago de Chile. The 2nd time was in May 2002 from FL to San Diego. That cruise was better because the weather.
But both was really fantastic - you will love that rip
We just completed the April 17th sailing of the Norwegian Wind through the Canal and with virtually the same stops. We really enjoyed this trip.
While the shore excursions are indeed pricey, most were well worth it as we were in unfamiliar territory and wanted to see as much as possible. The exception was San Blas. It was merely an experience with pushy natives that charged you a buck just to take a picture. The terms $1, $2, $5, $10, etc. took on a whole new life when we got back aboard. Their wares were mostly just needlepoint that they called "molla's". They were pretty, but hardly worth the hastle. Liked the others, though. Mostly tours through the cities, but took the gondola through the rainforest in Costa Rica ($129 pp, at this time). Saw hardly any animals on this, as they are mostly nocturnal. A better bet might be the Costa Rica canals cruise. They saw several animals.
Yes, NCL does charge for a lot of things. You do have the option not to use the bottled water, the optional restaurants, etc., and you can have the automatic tips adjusted or eliminated at the end of your cruise and tip conventionally. But, it is your choice.
Hey Waterboy,I'm glad you enjoyed your trip.How was the weather and the temp.?.Were you gone for 15-16 days?Was there a laundromat on the ship for personal use?So many questions but can't remember them all,guess I'll have to start making notes.Was this your first cruise?How did you find the Sun?I have 11 months to wait,seems so far away.I keep reading the message boards for tips,I find it very helpful.
As for the weather, we did have a bit of rain, but it didn't interfere with anything. Temp's were mostly in the 80's to low 90's. Seas were usually 6'-8', little to no wallow.
I have no familiarity with the Norwegian Sun. We were on the Wind, a nice ship. It had been stretched, adding some cabins, public rooms, and a restaurant. Once you learned your way around, it was fairly easy to get where you wanted to go. No public laundromat, just laundry service (and expensive). One day there was a laundry special-all you could fit in a bag for $25-but it was a small bag. It was a 16-night cruise. Left Miami on a Saturday and docked in LA on a Monday. I wouldn't have minded if we could have stayed on to Hawaii. This was our 14th cruise, the 4th on NCL. Also been on the Star twice in Hawaii and on the Sea when it was the Seaward to the Southern Caribbean. Enjoyed them all. One other thing. This is a repositioning cruise. They don't go this route often, so glitches happen. Tours may get delayed or cancelled, and other confusions can come up. Remember that if you book shore excursions through the ship, they will wait for you if your trip is late returning to the vessel. That happened to us on one of ours. Just go with the flow, and you will have a great time.
Sailed on the 4/11/04 NCL Sun from Miami to LA - 17 days. Very good crew, the ship was kept spotless and the cabins were spacious and well designed. However, we resent being "nickeled and dimed" to death. Extra charges of $5 or $10 for spinning class (exercise bikes), yoga, 1 hr computer class, wine tasting, etc.).
Food in dining rooms suffered from using cheap ingredients and stretchers - lots of rice, pasta, etc. rather than steaks, seafood, etc. Steaks (rarely on the menu) were lower quality cuts. You'd expect in on the buffet lines, but this was in the main dining rooms. The food was extremely good in the optional restaurants, so we paid $10-20 extra per person to get a meal that used be be served in the dining rooms. One specialty restaurant that was free (Pacific Heights) prepared Cooking Light recipes. Meatloaf was a nightly feature.
Drinks were very small for the price you paid. A margarita by the pool was $5.73 for about a 7 oz. drink including the mandatory gratuity.
There is no self-serve laundry on board, but they did offer a $20 per laundry bag special about day 6 and day 13 of the cruise which made it reasonable.
The Panama Canal lecturer didn't know her subject and delivered a boring presentation that she read. Those in the audience corrected her multiple times. The Discovery and PBS films on the Canal they showed were all you needed and much more enjoyable.
Stops were Aruba, Puntrenas, Acupulco, Manzanillo, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, San Diego and docked at LA/Long Beach harbor. The Canal was fascinating.
The river trip in CostaRica was worth the money. The Manzanillo beach resort trip was at a second class resort with poor food and drink. Save you money and take a cab to the Cliff Divers in Acapulco. The Acupulco city tour shore excursion was overpriced and you spent 3 of the 4 hours touring a hotel (tell me why???), and at a tourist trap gift shop.
Travel on your own (with maybe the exception of Costa Rica) and you will have a good time and not be ripped off.