Ranked #4 Norwegian fleet
Ranked #68 among all ships
Regions: Caribbean, Inland Waterways, Mediterranean Western, Mexico
One of the mid-size Norwegian ships, Caribbean cruises from New Orleans, free-style dining ...Read the CruiseMates report
Ranked #4 Norwegian fleet
Ranked #68 among all ships
Regions: Caribbean, Inland Waterways, Mediterranean Western, Mexico
One of the mid-size Norwegian ships, Caribbean cruises from New Orleans, free-style dining ...Read the CruiseMates report
Interior pictures are located at: http://www.cruise-addicts.com/picturepost/ Use the drop-down menu and click on "NORWEGIAN STAR"
NCL recently learned their new flagship, the NORWEGIAN STAR, would be finished a little early and they decided to offer a few shakedown revenue cruises. What better way to break in the staff, and receive some valuable feedback regarding the ship and operations? Four 1-night sailings were originally offered, with two of the sailings eventually being canceled. I sailed on Thursday, November 15th.
Keep in mind the majority of this review will be about the ship itself. Having been onboard for only one night, it's difficult to measure food and service levels objectively. As with any shakedown cruise, not everything was as smooth as NCL would prefer, and this was to be expected. For the most part, things were well organized, and the staff onboard was very enthusiastic and professional.
A little about myself. I am 35 years old and reside in Atlanta Georgia. I work for a major airline but ships and cruises are my passion. The NORWEGIAN STAR sailing ranks as my 45th cruise to date. My preferred lines are Celebrity and Royal Caribbean, but I'm not pickyand have tried all the major and not so major lines. This year has been an especially good one regarding cruises, with the "legendary NORWAY" in March, RADIANCE OF THE SEAS in May, GOLDEN PRINCESS in September, and of course the NORWEGIAN STAR.
For those of you into all the technical aspects of ships, this section is for you!Gross Tonnage.......91,740 Overall Length.......965 feet Beam..........105 feet Draft...........26 feet Engines.........Diesel Electric Cruise Speed.......25 knots Passengers........2,240 (double occupancy) Crew...........1,100
The Captain of the NORWEGIAN STAR is Geir Loeken. The Cruise Director is John Anderson, who was also my Cruise Director on the NORWAY in March.
From the very beginning, I could tell that NCL has changed! New uniforms, new check-in procedures, new logo, new NCL! Checking in for this one night cruise was no different than any other sailing. You were still required to fill out forms, provide a credit card and so forth. NCL now uses laptops (connected to their mainframe via satellite) to speed up the process, putting them on par with Carnival, RCI, and Princess. After clearing security the process was fairly quick. Another change was the issuance of a Charge/ID/Cabin Key combo card. It's about time NCL caught up with the times. Although no security photo was taken (such as on Princess), they do swipe your card upon entering and leaving the ship. We entered the ship on Deck 7 and were escorted to our cabin. Nice touch NCL!
Our cabin was a Category BA, cabin 10027. This is a standard outside with balcony on Deck 10. The first thing I noticed was the signage outside the cabin door. Not only did it display the cabin number, but also the message "Welcome". This device also contained a slot that could hold any mail for your cabin. The little welcome message was actually a dial that you could rotate from underneath. Other displays were "Make up cabin", "Do not disturb", and "Turn down cabin". A very ingenious way to let the steward know the status of the cabin.
The cabin itself was not huge, but adequate for a seven day cruise. The colors were bold (green, blue, gold, red) and I loved all the wood veneer on the walls. There were two closets, but only three drawers in the entire cabin. There were some shelves in the closet that could also be used. Amenities included a safe, refrigerator, TV (not interactive), hair dryer, and coffee/tea maker. There was a small sitting area with a yellow couch that could be turned into a single bed. A glass sliding door leads to the balcony which contained two chairs and a table. The balcony furniture was of high quality (better than plastic) although the balcony itself was rather narrow. The rail is made entirely of glass which was very nice.
The bathroom was certainly the best designed standard ship bath I have ever experienced. It's actually divided into three sections. You walk into the main section which contains a nice size sink and plenty of storage space. On one side of the sink is a separate section that contains the toilette, and on the other side of the sink is the large shower area. Both the toilette and shower sections have a glass sliding door to separate them from the sink area. This terrific design makes it possible for two people to use the bathroom at once. Certainly something that is hardly possible on most other ships. The use of wood veneer is even used in the bathroom, and the floor is a very nice blue tile. NCL installed soap and shampoo dispensers on the STAR instead of individual packets. Again a nice touch.
I was able to view many other cabins, in fact, just about every category. All cabins are beautifully decorated and well designed. For the money, I would say the Category AF Mini-Suites are an excellent value. They are stunning with rich deep colors, dark woods, and beautiful fabrics. They also provide more closet and drawer space than the standard cabins. The bathroom in the mini-suites is of the same sectioned design, but with a bath tub instead of a shower.
First stop is a Romance Suite. Category AD, cabin 10228. Just beautiful from top to bottom! Dark woods, expensive furnishings, flat screen TV, dressing area and a large bathroom. There is even a table and four chairs for dining. The walls are all covered with a rich, silk wallpaper. The aft facing balcony offers teak flooring and furnishings, and is a decent size.
Next is the Owner's Suite. Category AA, cabin 10506. This is actually the "Picasso Suite", and decorated to suit the name. The style of this suite will not appeal to everyone, as it is very avant-garde and eclectic. I absolutely loved it! There are two bathrooms and two balconies. One facing the side, and one with a forward view. The artwork and furnishings are truly unique and appear to be quite expansive. I noticed a satellite phone was provided, along with a laptop computer and flat screen TV. Another flat screen TV was located above the Jacuzzi tub in the bathroom! This suite was truly stunning, and most certainly "one of a kind" in terms of decor.
Last stop is the Garden Villa on Deck 14. There are actually two of these, although they can be combined into one VERY large suite. The Garden Villa is actually six different cabins that share two very large living areas. These Villa's are located at the very top of the ship, with floor to ceiling windows that face the sea and pool area. In addition, both Villas offer a private deck decorated like a Japanese Garden. Complimenting the private deck is a personal Jacuzzi for yourself and any friends you may meet! J I thought the deck area was beautiful, but I was disappointed in the use of plastic plants and flowers instead of the real thing. The individual cabins (or bedrooms if you will) offer all the amenities as described in the Romance Suites. They are also somewhat eclectic in decor, and will not appeal to everyone. The shared living area is huge, complete with bar, kitchen, pantry, grand piano, dining table, flat screen TV's, and of course couches and chairs. All the furniture is very modern and unique. The view from the living area is directly over the main swimming pool.
Each of the six bedrooms/baths has it's own door and key, and I assume they could be sold separately, although I'm not certain if NCL is doing that. There is also a main entrance to each of the Villa Suites through a glass and chrome door. If both suites are purchased as one, the entire area can be closed off from a door on the deck below, making it completely private. There would really be no reason to ever leave!
In general, the ship is a departure from any that I have sailed on. She is bold, eclectic, surprising, unique, and downright different! Most of it works, but not entirely. Remember that opinions are like a rear-end, everyone's got one and thinks that everyone else's stinks! J Just remember these are my viewpoints only, and yours may be different. The STAR was originally designed for the Asian market, and that explains much of the design and decor. I have heard she can be compared to her older and smaller sisters, the SUPERSTAR VIRGO and SUPERSTAR LEO of NCL parent company Star Cruises, but I have not seen these ships so I can't comment.
The easiest way to tackle this is to go from top to bottom..so here we go.
The Bier Garden is located midship here. Pretzels and a variety of beer are sold in a fun atmosphere of teak furniture and street lamps with a view of the pool.
DECK 13 (yes, 13! - remember, the STAR was built for the Asian market, where the number 13 is considered lucky.) All the outdoor decks are made of rubber composite, and I don't recall seeing any teak decking. The decks are very well designed, in a tiered arrangement both in the forward section facing the bow, and midship by the pool. It actually looks a little like a stadium with rows and rows of tiered deck chairs (ala CARNIVAL DESTINY). There is a Jacuzzi all the way up front with a great view.
Midship is the Star Bar, a very classy piano bar with leather chairs and a view of the pool. Aft of the Star Bar is the Las Ramblas Tapas Bar & Restaurant. NCL did a great job making this area look unique and authentic. Lot's of atmosphere and a far better representation than the generic Mexican restaurant onboard GOLDEN and GRAND PRINCESS.
All the way aft is the children's area which I cannot comment on. Never made it there!
Forward is the Spinnaker Lounge and Bar. This is the longest bar on the STAR, and the view is over the bow. This is a very large lounge that is also used as a secondary show lounge for smaller shows like a singer or comedian.
Just aft on the port side are a series of conference rooms. These are state of the art and named after the great cities of the world. The starboard side contains a beautiful card room and reading room. Both lounges feature floor to ceiling windows. In the center is a cinema and rather large Library. The Library was fully stocked with books and featured very comfortable seating. These areas were probably the most conservative you will find on NORWEGIAN STAR, and they would easily fit in aboard lines such as Princess Cruises.
Midship is the main pool area. Disappointing from my perspective. The main pool contains two slides that I feel would be better placed in a children's area. They take up a lot of valuable space and will most likely turn this area into a children's playground. Unfortunately, there is no other outdoor pool area onboard the STAR. In this same area is another very small well-like pool with a raised bench inside the pool. I guess the only thing you could do in this pool is sit, as it's not big enough to swim in. Aft of the pool is the main pool bar and grill. The entire area is decorated with large metal palm trees. At night, these light up and blink ala Carnival Cruise Line. Not really my taste, especially with the lack of a quieter second pool area.
Further aft is the Market Cafe and La Trattoria. La Trattoria is touted as an Italian dining area, but in fact it looks no different than the Market Cafe and is just an extension of this area. The Market Cafe is probably the most disappointing area of the ship in my opinion. It looks very much like a cafeteria with vinyl floors, plastic chairs and tables, and wall coverings that look like oranges, apples and other fruit. The whole area came across as cold and cheap, and not suited to the style of the rest of the ship.
Further aft is the top level of the Barong Fitness Center. It is connected to the deck below by a semi-circle staircase and mini-atrium. The fitness center contained every piece of equipment you could ever want, plus a very attractive juice bar. There are interior windows that look down through the small atrium, but strangely enough, no exterior windows which make this area a little dark.
Outside and all the way aft is the Splash Down Kids pool. I did not get a great look at this area, but it appeared to be quite festive for the young ones.
The lower half of the Barong Spa is located here all the way aft. Contrary to the fitness center, this area is completely surrounded by floor to ceiling windows facing the sea. This certainly ranks as one of the most beautiful spas at sea, complete with the longest indoor pool afloat. Separate men's and women's changing rooms, saunas, and steam rooms are offered. In addition, there is a beautiful lounge area for each sex in the port and starboard aft corners of the ship complete with aromatherapy.
Midship is the Internet Cafe. Happily all charges were waived during this inaugural sailing. The area is operated by Digital Seas and equipment was first rate. This area can only be accessed from stairs that lead up from the atrium area on Deck 8.
Midship is the Endless Summer Restaurant. This rather large and noisy restaurant is actually the upper balcony of the atrium. The specialty is Hawaii cuisine and this will probably be one of the easier restaurants to get a reservation at, due to its size. Check out the rather unusual chairs in the lounge area on the starboard side. Very fun to look at, and sit in!
Forward is the beautiful Stardust Theater. It's almost all in red, with comfortable theater style seating. Individual air vents are located in the back of the chair in front of you! NCL put on a show entitled "Music of the Night". As with all NCL productions, it was produced by the Jean Ann Ryan Company. I was surprised how short it was, only about a half hour. They may have actually abbreviated the show for this short cruise. The show was pretty typical, but the performers were extremely talented. The vocals of all the lead singers were exceptional and made up for a fairly blase production.
Just aft of the show lounge is Karaoke Circus. Unique to any cruise ship, this Karaoke bar even includes six private Karaoke rooms. This area was left in tact from the original design of the ship for Star Cruises. The design is like a Circus and quite festive. In the center is a main stage area with four large TV screens behind the stage. A large bar is across from the stage.
Moving further aft is the Sushi Bar, Ginza Restaurant, and Teppanyaki Bar. All three of these areas essentially share the same space, and all look quite authentic and pleasing. The Sushi Bar has an open kitchen where you can watch the preparation. Teppanyaki is actually a private room that features one large cooking table such as you would find at a Benihana. I'm not quite sure how you would reserve it though. The entire area is open to another mini-atrium that looks down to Gatsby's Bar below, and is connected by a staircase.
A long hall which includes the photo gallery leads to the Grand Atrium. The atrium is very attractive with fountains, four glass elevators, the reception deck, shore excursion office (port side), and a small sundry shop (starboard side). The center of the atrium is the raised Java Cafe. Coffee and baked goods are available here, and the seating area has a great view of all the action, complete with live music. The reception desk is open 24 hours and is fronted by an all white marble floor. Very attractive. Hanging from the ceiling is a large, retractable movie screen that is viewable from both the Java Cafe and the Endless Summer restaurant above. This was used to show promotional videos during my cruise, but I'm certain NCL will find other uses for it. There are also fountains to each side of the glass elevators along with a sea of plastic flowers. Again, I would have preferred to see real flowers as I found the plastic ones to be a bit cheesy, and not in keeping with the quality and style of the rest of the ship - not to mention Hawaii.
Continuing aft on the port side is the Red Lion Pub. This attractive bar reminds me of the Pig and Whistle on VOYAGER OF THE SEAS. It's pretty much the sports bar on the STAR and looks like an authentic pub. In the same position but on the starboard side is the Blue Lagoon Restaurant. This is another area that just doesn't seem to fit from my perspective. This small buffet restaurant is open 24 hours and is supposed to be like a diner. There are little tables and tiny round stools to sit on. This space is another left over from the original design for Star Cruises, and the small furniture seems like it was intended for the Asian market. In fact, this diner was going to be a 24 hour Japanese restaurant that served friend rice and egg rolls. The SUPERSTAR VIRGO and LEO offer a similar type restaurant which this was copied from.
Moving all the way aft is the Galleria Shop. This is actually one large shop, which NCL calls a Department Store. Without a doubt, it is the largest shop afloat, as this space was originally intended to be the Casino (hence the lack of a single window). The shop was open although only halfway stocked. The shop staff had been working throughout the night opening boxes and setting up as much as possible. One unique feature is a cafe/bar directly in the shop. I'm sure this was originally intended as the Casino Bar, but it certainly makes for a nice cafe if you want to take a break from shopping. The very attractive shop staff were from Germany, South America and South Africa. Somewhat different than the American shop staff on most ships.
Deck 7 offers a wrap around promenade deck, again with rubber non-stick flooring. Instead of having plain, white steel bulkheads, there are whimsical paintings on all the bulkheads surrounding this deck. I liked them, but my companion said they reminding him of the pictures (art?) on some of LA's freeways!
Forward is the lower half of the Stardust Theater. Entry is from two long and ornate hallways, complete with glass displays and chandeliers. At the e ntrance are two authentic looking ticket offices, as you would find at an old theater. Lots of little details everywhere you look.
Moving aft is Dazzles Lounge and Nightclub. This lounge is completely enclosed and offers no windows. Even the entry doors are rather plain and nondescript. I guess NCL really wanted to make this like a true nightclub. I'm not sure if the disco will be in this lounge, or in Spinnakers, as Dazzles was turned into a Casino for this one night cruise. The decor was dark and nothing really stood out. I can't really comment further as the lounge was not in its true form during this cruise. I'm sure NCL was pleased they spent the money to turn this lounge into a makeshift casino, as it was packed with standing room only!
Further aft is Gatsby's Champagne Bar, The Soho Room, The Wine Cellar, Havana Club, and Le Bistro. All these spaces are in the lower level of a mini atrium and compliment each other. Gatsby's is the main bar area, and is very open and includes a piano. Right off of Gatsby's is the Wine Cellar, which includes a small sitting area for wine tasting, and open displays showcasing all the wine. Very attractive looking. The Havana Club is a glass enclosed lounge for cocktails and cigars. Very much like Michaels Club on the Celebrity ships, the lounge features large ocean view windows. The entrance to Le Bistro is also off this area, and this restaurant features French cuisine similar to the same offered on other NCL ships. There is a partially open kitchen where some of the preparation can be viewed. The final space of this area is The SoHo Room. Very light, airy, and bordered by floor to ceiling windows, this is another of the alternative restaurants on the STAR.
Walking aft down a long corridor past Le Bistro brings you to the first of the "included" restaurants onboard NORWEGIAN STAR. It's called the Aqua Restaurant, and is very attractive. The decor is similar to The SoHo Room, again very light, airy, with windows on both sides. The ceiling looks like a sky of twinkling stars. This restaurant is supposed to feature lighter, California style cuisine, although on this short sailing the menu was identical to the Versailles Restaurant.
All the way aft is the Versailles Restaurant. Entry to this restaurant is only from the aft staircase on Deck 7. The reason?, there is a large galley separating Versailles and the Aqua Restaurant that makes it impossible to pass through on Deck 6. The entrance to Versailles is via a grand staircase and the effect is stunning. Versailles is very ornate, and very French in decor. All the way aft are huge double height windows with an incredible view of the ships wake. Quite a beautiful setting to be sure. Versailles could be considered the "main" restaurant onboard NORWEGIAN STAR, and there is no extra fee to dine here just like the Aqua Restaurant.
Last are the foyers, corridors and stairs. There are 12 large elevators and three stair towers onboard. Four of the elevators are glass enclosed. Each of the stair towers are a different color. Red, Blue and Green. I guess this way you always know what part of the ship you are in. The cabin corridors are rather plain and void of any artwork. The cabin doors are steel and painted with a glossy paint that makes them look rather industrial. Too bad this small detail could not be improved upon.
FOOD AND SERVICE
My only meal onboard was dinner at the SoHo Room. The food was excellent, served on specially created dinner ware designed for each dish. Very unique and worth the extra charge to eat here. Dessert was flambeed table side which was a nice touch. Service was uneven at best, but this was only the second dinner these servers had under their belt. I'm certain they will become very proficient in a short period.
Most of the staff onboard were Asian (Malaysian, Thai, etc.), which is the direction NCL is headed in. This is a direct result of the Star Cruises ownership. Gone are the mostly Jamaican and Caribbean staff that NCL has used for many, many years. Even the reception staff were from Malaysia, transferred from the Star Cruises fleet in Asia. I'm sure it will take a little time for the staff to become accustomed to the style of service that Americans are used to. Although the service was uneven, everyone I encountered was polite, eager and pleasant. I feel only time is needed to transform this crew into a top notch, first rate staff.
I hope you can conclude that I thoroughly enjoyed the NORWEGIAN STAR, and her unique decor and design. She is truly NCL's first purpose built ship under the "Freestyle" concept, and the new management at NCL. There is nothing quite like her at sea, and although not everything is perfect, I would not hesitate to recommend her. I am looking forward to reading the reviews after her first Hawaii cruises. It's difficult to get a true feel for a ship after only one night, as sometimes the ship takes on an entirely different personality after a week onboard.
To all those sailing on NORWEGIAN STAR, I hope this review gives you a little idea of what to expect, and the good times that are ahead. Please feel free to contact me with any specific questions.
This was my sixth cruise, my second cruise on NCL and the first on the Star. This is a two-star ship (out of 5) and I may be generous.
Boarding was efficient and speedy. There was no one available to escort us to the cabin so we had to find our own way. The cabin (outside minimum) was satisfactory. It was downhill from here.
The passengers were (to put it delicately) not upscale sophisticated as on other ships. Standard dress was flip-flops, tank tops, tee shirts, jeans, etc. even at dinner.
Pricing policy encourages families with children. Lots and lots of children - even toddlers and newborns. Kids running about including up and down the halls throughout the day. Very annoying. I have a particular problem with children at the buffet handling food and utensils. The best bet was to patronize the restaurants with a "cover charge" ($15.00 pp) Service and food, although nothing special, were well worth the additional fee.
The Marketplace buffet, Aqua and the Versailles restaurants were too noisy.
Entertainment was okay but I could live without the illusionist or the hypnotist.
This ship may be worth the price but don't expectfine quality as on other lines.
Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star by Bob & Patsy Alaska May 19, 2007
My wife and I have been on six cruises in the past and have found them all pleasant experiences. That is until we found NCL. This is the second time we have sailed on NCL. The first was to New England and Canada on the NCL Jewel. We were disappointed in this cruise, but believed that it was it's maiden voyage in the US and some bugs needed to be ironed out.
On this cruise we found out that the last cruise was in some ways better then this one. We had decided to give NCL the benefit of the doubt and try it again, because we had some friends that were booked on this cruise.
To start with, we attempted to book our excursions on line, and found out that many of the ones that are on the web site didn't exist. Phone calls to NCL didn't help as we were given the run around.
We flew to Seattle the day before the cruise was to live to give ourselves plenty of time to get to the ship.We arrived early to register because we were given another run around when we tried to register early from home. We found the staff there was indifferent to down right rude. After we registered we were given a number and told to have a seat in the holding area. There were about one hundred seats for about one thousand people. Our number was finally called and we were allowed to get on the ship. There was no one to direct people to their rooms, or did we see any one along the way. We made it to the eleventh floor only to fine all of the doors to the hallways closed and locked and there was a girl by the elevators to tell us that the rooms were not ready. She directed us to the twelfth floor to have lunch. This is the area that NCL tries to pass as a buffet. There was very little selection and almost no taste. We decided to go out to the pool area and wait because the buffet area was filling up fast. There waiters trying to get us to buy drinks accosted us every two minutes. Some time the same waiter several times in rapid succession.
We finally went to our room, a "Mini suit" and found it to smaller the one on the Jewel. It looked like it was well lived in and was in need of refurbishing. Our bags came in short order and the was room to put every thing away. The bathroom was large and had plenty of space to put everything away. The bed was old and worn out, lumpy and hard. The room stewards came and introduced themselves, and were very efficient, although we did not see them very often. On NCL the stewards have certain hours that they are available. The cabin was not properly cleaned. When my wife put her suitcase under the bed she found two pairs of shoes under the bed that had been there for quite some time by the layer of dust on them.
There is nothing free about "freestyle" cruising. Because we were with a large groupe we were given permanent reservations at the Aqua restaurant. The first night we had a waitress that was delightful She was efficient, friendly, with a great sense of humor. Unfortunately She was not the waitress for those tables every night. For some reason they rotate the waitresses. One night we missed our dinnertime and sat at another table. The waiter was so bad that we exchange words. He had the worst attitude I have ever experienced on a cruise ship. As I stated before the buffet was a complete disaster. NCL is completely obsessed with making sure that all passengers keep their hands clean, with hand sanitizers every were. But I found plates and silverware that had not been properly cleaned and tables that were still sticky and not wiped down after the plates were picked up. The buffet closes several times a day and closes for good at nine o'clock in the evening. After that the only place to go is one of the "extra pay restaurants", which we tried on our last trip and found the over rated and as lacking as the rest of the eateries. You can also go to the Blue Lagoon restaurant. This is a small part of a hallway with almost no seating, lousy service, and terrible food. The menu consists of hamburger, hot dog and fish and chip. For desert the only offering are two types of cookies. They are open all night so NCL can say they have food twenty-four hours a day.
NCL is a "discount "cruise line and it shows. I do not intend to sail NCL again, and I would not recommend it to any friends.
Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star by L. Lee Repositioning Cruise May 2, 2007
I have been on 8 cruises in the past and Norwegian has never been the top of my list, but our last experience has put me off for good. We found out that the cruise price keeps going down as the sailing date draws closer if they don't sell out. But our travel agent informed us that unfortunately, Norweigan cruise line is the only line that dosen't adjust the price for you if you book ahead of time. My husband and I said "That's okay, we won't let that spoil our vacation."
But when we got to our stateroom, we found that it was filthy; the glasses weren't washed, yet they presented it with a clean cover and my husband drank water out of it to discover a layer of redness on the bottom. There was also plenty of pubic hair in the bathroom. And as we lay our head down to sleep, we noticed that the walls were smeared with boogers. We called reception, and they said that they would sent someone in to clean it (Thesame person who had cleaned it last time) Instead, my husband said that he didn't want that person in our cabin and that he'd clean it himself. (Don't you think that by cleaning the walls, they would spray chemicals which would contaminate the bed and then the boogers would land on the bed as well?) Our cabin was unforgivably dirty and I will never sail with Norweigan again. The food was mediocre. The kid's club was 1 supervisor to 52 kids. You can guess what that was like.
Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star by Richard Mexico April 7, 2007
Janet and I have been on seventeen cruises with six major cruise lines. This was our fifth sailing with NCL and most certainly the best of the five. We enjoy longer cruises 10 to 21 days as the seven day cruises pass too quickly and we have to travel considerable distance to get to a port. Eight days worked well this time as my wife had to get back to teaching following this Easter break.
I would be hard pressed to to complain about any factor that spoiled this vacation on the ship. Food was excellent which is possibly the most important consideration. Everything considered, I would rate the total package 8 1/2 out of 10.
From past experinces I will mention these minor concerns. The Market Buffet is just OK and does not have that "wow factor." It is always busy, noisy and tends to get messy with spills. I do not like automatic gratuities, ten dollars per person per day. I want to tip who I wish to. One expects great service on a ship and indiviuals not prepared toprovide it should not work on the ship. I would prefer a hidden charge built into the ticket price thus paying those who deserve it well. Those who don't deserve it find work elsewhere.
I've kept this short. All in all, your will enjoy sailing the Norwegian Star.
Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star by Cynda Mexico March 30, 2007
Background about us, this was our 3rd cruise, the first on Norwegian. We are a family of five, my husband and I are in our 40's, our childen are 18, 16, and 12 from Las Vegas Nevada. Our cruise was on the Norwegian Star to the Mexican Riviera with port cities of Acapulco, Zihuataneho/Ixtapa, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas. We had two adjoining balcony cabins, 9030/9032.
Embarkation-Very quick, we were pleasantly surprised. We drove to the port, dropped the kids and luggage at the curb about 11 am, parked the car about two rows out, walked back to the curb, staff member took our luggage. We were in line, no kidding, maybe 10 minutes, front desk verified our passport and boarding documents, took our pictures, and we were on the boat by noon.
Ship-The Star is a lovely ship overall, bright and airy Atrium, our favorite places included the Carousel Bar, Aqua restaurant, Versailles restaurant, and the entire walk around the Panorama deck outside. We spent more time on the Panorama deck in a lounge chair, than we did up aroundthe pool. This may have been due to the fact that it was spring break, and the pool was always completely overcrowded. We DID enjoy the pool too, and the jacuzzi's. The food grilled there was our favorite place for lunches each day. The casino is larger than other ships we have been on, good amount of table games as well as slot machines. They also had a few blackjack tables set up around the pool in the afternoons. The overall layout onboard was easy to navigate, but I did notice a couple odd things. First of all, Aqua restaurant, is hidden, and such a shame that you have to hunt for someplace that turns out so nice.(Deck 6, mid ship, behind So Ho and LeBistro) Secondly, the Galleria shops, it seems are an afterthought-at the back of the boat, where you can avoid them altogether quite easily.
Onboard experience-We had a great time on our cruise, especially having the two adjoining balcony rooms. When it was too crowded around ship, we could always retreat to our balcony and still enjoy the fresh air and views. The good, the bad, and the poorly planned: We tried only one of the specialty restaurants-Cagney Steakhouse. Terrific.
We would like to say we tried some of the others, but reservations were a nightmare. They only allow you to book one day in advance, good idea-but, we were informed that to actually 'get' a reservation, we needed to call between 7 and 8 am each day. Well, on vacation, who is up at that hour!?
Apparently, those other people who got 'our' reservations :) No matter, Versailles and Aqua were terrific. We also tried Endless Summer, it was so-so, and the buffet-which I have to review as 'yuck'. Thats probably not fair, I'm sure there were people who thought better of it, but I'm from Vegas, and used to buffet food, so you have to wow me at least a little bit here to get my attention. The kids club/teen club was a nice space, the kids had room for dancing, computers to play on, and room to just hang out. The activities for my sons age group 10-12 yr olds, he wasn't so excited about this trip. He did attend something each day, but not racing to see what the next planned activity might be like he did his previous cruise. Our older two daughters, settled in on a core group of friends after the first day at sea, and always used the teen club as their meeting spot, then kind of planned things on their own as well, always ending up back there at the end of the night when it became more crowded with other kids. *special note, spring break, we were told there were 700 kids on this sailing, 500 of them ages 12 and up.
Teen Club staff, Bethany and Stacey, were both excellent with the kids they were responsible for, and I can't rave enough about them. The staff was actually about 6 different people, but Bethany and Stacey stood out above the rest. We did not try the spa this trip, but did take their tour the first day, and the facility was quite nice. To use the pool and jacuzzi was a fee of $15.00 per day. The fitness center wasn't very big, and didn't have much of an ocean view. The movie theater had one nice feature, and that was the fact that they had more than one feature. The movie changed daily, and popcorn was available just around the corner at the Spinnaker lounge.
Service-Our room stewards did a remarkable job, I have to imagine that the quality was the same thruout the ship. They were at our room to meet us the first day, within about 10 minutes of our arrival. Oh, and I forgot to mention this before, our luggage, ALL OF IT, arrived by the time we were to our room-2 pm. That was a nice surprise. Our stewards, Alicia and Marlon never failed to speak to us, by name if they met us in the hall. They asked about our day, told us about their onboard experience and just seemed genuine and friendly the entire cruise. Service in the restaurants, was absolutely attentive, although because of the freestyle experience, you don't get to know your servers at all, and they are cycled thru to different restaurants all the time. Overall, service was great. One bad experience can sort of over shadow the rest though, so here's the deal: Buy your photos prior to the last day, if you plan to do so. You cannot imagine how many cranky, tired, loud guests were delayed from leaving the ship when we arrived back in Los Angeles. Why? Because they went to the photo gallery that morning to pick out their pictures before leaving. (Myself included) I only wanted one picture, which had just been taken the previous evening. I had $15.00 in my pocket, because of course, the bill for our trip had already been sent to our room. The photo shop said we cannot accept cash here, it must be billed to your room. Oh, ok. Took the photo, got in line to disembark, and when they swiped our cards thru, the staff notified us we had a problem because of a purchase after the close of our bill. Yes, well, we tried to pay cash, they said they can't accept cash.
No, they cannot, you have to go back upstairs to pay for this and settle your account at the front reception desk. The kids and I were sidelined while hubby went back upstairs to settle the bill. We listened as passengers were told one after the other, to step aside and go upstairs to settle their account. It was not pretty. Hubby says the reception staff was courteous and professional, but they didn't really have a system for handling the angry customers. Our final thoughts, this could have been solved easily. The Cruise Director should have made several annoucements the day before, reminding passengers to purchase photos and any last minute items that evening to avoid delays during check out in Los Angeles the next morning.
Shows/Entertainment-We attended the show each evening. The Jean Ann Ryan Company put on three shows, each a bit different from the other. Our favorite was "Band on the Run" with songs from the 70's. The magician was Shawn Farquhar, excellent. There were also a couple shows with the Second City Comedy Club, pretty funny. Stan Sykes was in the Carousel Lounge, we really enjoyed his music, stopped by for a little while each night. Typical entertainment around the pool, hairy legs contest, the not so newlywed game, bingo, kareoke etc.
Port Cities-Acapulco was horribly humid and hot. Take LOTS of water and a hand towel with you we were drenched in about 10 minutes time. We took a tour of city highlights that included the Port of San Diego, Flamingo Hotel, and of course the Cliff Divers at La Quebrada and a little time in the town square for shopping. Good and educational for our kids. Recommended.
Puerto Vallarta-We went to Sea Life Park/Dolphin Discovery. The water park has a couple pools, water slides, a lazy river, and you get to swim with the dolphins. Note-you can pay to go as a spectator rather than swim with the dolphins to save money. We paid full price for the kids, and then about a third of the cost for hubby and I, which allowed us to use the water park and pools but just be photographers for the dolphin swim. Very good experience. Recommended.
Cabo San Lucas-We explored here on our own. We did not take any excursions, we just walked thru the city doing our shopping, and had lunch at the Cabo Wabo Cantina. Nice relaxing day.
Zihuataneho/Ixtapa-We didn't leave the ship during this port. Unfortunately we had a child who wasn't feeling well so we spent the day around the pool, at the movie theater, and in the card/game room onboard.
Overall experience-Would we recommend NCL to others, YES. Would we travel NCL again, YES. I think our preference is away from the freestyle dining experience to the more traditional style, but for us itinerary and the interior design of the ship are most important.
Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star by Shannon Mexico November 29, 2006
8-DAY MEXICAN RIVIERA ON THE NORWEGIAN STAR -- Round trip from Los Angeles, CA with stops in Acapulco, Zihuatenejo, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas -- Cabin 10087 inside stateroom --
BACKGROUND – This was my 6th cruise, second with NCL and first Mexican Riviera trip. Previous cruises include HAL Westerdam in 1998 (East Caribbean), Celebrity Mercury in 2000 (West Caribbean), NCL Wind in 2003 (West Caribbean), Carnival Destiny in 2005 (South Caribbean) and Royal Caribbean Legend of the Seas in 2006 (West Caribbean). I went on this trip with my mom and my grandma.
EMBARKATION – We arrived at the port after a half hour shuttle ride from the airport (Super Shuttle?). It was about 11:30am. A porter took our luggage and we entered the holding room, went through security and began to check in. We went through the line, got our pictures taken for our room cards and were walking onto the ship within 30 minutes. I thought the process was well organized and there were even some staff members handing out refreshments.
CABIN – We knew our cabin was going topose a new challenge for us because there were three of us in an inside stateroom. I slept on the upper bunk while my grandma and mother slept on the lower beds. The upper bunk was not as comfortable as the lower beds. There was plenty of storage space in the bathroom and the tiled shower was large for a cruise ship cabin. Shampoo and body wash is provided in the shower through a dispenser. There is a safe, coffee pot, TV and a fair amount of storage – surely enough for two people but a little more cramped for three people. The only minor disadvantage to the room was that the bedside tables did not have any drawers or shelves and the drawer space throughout the room wasn't very sufficient.
STAFF – We found the staff to be very friendly in almost all situations. The wait staff in Endless Summer was lifeless, but we enjoyed the staff in both the Aqua and Versailles dining rooms. Also, our cabin steward did a wonderful job, and we were always greeted in the hallways by smiling faces. The cruise director was a friendly man from Australia named Simon. He came to our Cruise Critic meeting and spent a little time getting to know us.
FOOD – I believe NCL has improved the quality of their food since the last time I sailed with them in 2003 on the Wind. Even though the breakfast buffet selections became boring after a few days, the fruit was very fresh, bakery items were delicious and scrambled eggs weren't too runny or too dry. We ate breakfast in the Versailles dining room one morning. Extra items on that breakfast menu included Belgian waffles, smoked salmon dishes and biscuits with gravy. The buffet room was well organized – it was divided in two with identical buffets on each side of the room in order to split the crowd in half.
Many lunches were enjoyed off the ship, however, when on board, we usually had salads and pastas in the buffet or burgers near the pool. Selections at lunch seemed to change each day but maintained staples such as fruit, pizzas, Caesar salad, small sandwiches and an array of desserts from fruit tarts to a new moose each day.
Dinner, as I said before, was much better than the last time I sailed with NCL. A few dishes that stuck out in my mind are the Cooking Light Tilapia (the best meal of the week), the Warm Goat Cheese Potato Au Gratin appetizer and Cooking Light Apple Brandy Pork Roast. For the most part, appetizers, salads and desserts were great. Some entrees left something to be desired such as the Mahi Mahi which was way overcooked. We switched between the two free restaurants each night for dinner and found that the Aqua dining room was noisy and the staff not as attentive. Especially one night when we had dinner with a couple we meet through Cruise Critic. We preferred Versailles. One night we ate at Endless Summer and were disappointed in the food. I had red snapper that was overcooked and didn't have much flavor. The chips and salsa were a nice touch at the beginning of the meal but we decided to go back to the other restaurants for the rest of the cruise. We were unable to get a reservation in La Trattoria during the cruise and did not try any of the surcharge restaurants.
I am not a fan of freestyle dining because I don't think you should have to waste time waiting for a table or trying to make a reservation for dinner. During peak eating hours, typical wait time for a table is about 20 to 30 minutes. Although, it was nice to be able to enjoy a drink at a nearby bar while waiting for your table. I prefer traditional dining with the same wait staff, same time and same table each night – just so you don't have to think about it and plan ahead.
As for desserts, we were always pleased with the selection. Typically, a frozen yogurt, a sherbet, a Cooking Light selection, a chocolate treat and some type of fruit tart or cheesecake were offered every night. My favorites included the peach frozen yogurt, pineapple sherbet and the chocolate moose.
FITNESS CENTER My mother and I did a lot of exercise during the cruise. We walked the track every morning (4 laps is a mile) and then did some weight training in the gym located at the back of the ship just underneath the track. The walking a jogging track was a little narrow but it was nice to have a clearly marked and separated path (separated by a glass wall) from the rest of the pool and sunbathing area. The fitness center has a lot of machines and was never very busy. There are stationery bikes, elliptical machines, rowing machines, treadmills and a lot of quality weight training machines. There is also a stretch and toning area with yoga balls, free weights and mats. Next to this area is a separate room for aerobic, stretch and spinning classes. We participated in a stretch class one morning that was done very well and was a nice way to start the day. For $30, you could sign up for 3 fitness classes throughout the week that included yoga, Pilates and spinning.
We did not know until the last day of the cruise that you can collect points for all the fitness activities you participate in and then get a prize at the end of the cruise. We would have kept track of our activities if they had better promoted this program.
ACTIVITIES / ENTERTAINMENT Personally, I have always thought that NCL does a great job with daily activities which is one of the reasons I wasn't too worried about being bored during the first two consecutive sea days. There were dancing classes, language classes, cooking classes and history lectures as well as bingo and other casino games that my grandma enjoyed. My mom and I went to the Second City lecture (they teach you how to do "improv" and you can participate as a volunteer which my mom and I both did) as well as the Italian language lesson.
The most enjoyable shows throughout the week included the Second City comedy group, the Newly Wed Game and the talent show. Second City was great – maybe not totally appropriate for kids, but absolutely hilarious and extremely entertaining. It's an improve comedy group with locations throughout the United States – they have a contract with NCL to provide a group of comedians for ship entertainment.PORTS OF CALL / EXCURSIONS
ACAPULCO (ship docked) Acapulco was much more urban than I expected (2.5 million people). We cancelled our ship-booked excursion to take an independent tour with some Cruise Critic members. For $30 each (price based on total number of people, and we had nine total), Rosie took us to many of the city's top attractions, most of which had few to no other tourists at them. I believe Rosie decides which activities to go to based on the traffic conditions and time allotted, but our tour included a stop at La Quebrada to watch the cliff divers' 1pm show. This was a very neat experience. Not only is the location beautiful but the divers are outstanding. The divers climb up the cliff and jump at different heights. There were two children (I'm guessing they were in training) that dove from the shorter heights and one diver from the very top of the cliff. Rosie told us the diver's only dive from the top of the cliff once or twice a week because it is so difficult on their bodies. My only complaint about the viewing area is that there are only a limited number of spaces where you will be able to see when the divers hit the water. I recommend either watching from the restaurant at the top of the hill or making your way down the stairs to the viewing area closest to the cliff (it fills up quickly). But just be aware – there are a lot of stairs at this attraction. The cost to see the divers was $3.50 each or around 30 pesos each. There are souvenirs available and a store at the top of the stairs for silver items, lots of jewelry, wood carvings and bathrooms.
Other stops included Casa Blanca Hotel, an abandoned hotel with arguably the best view of the bay, Los Flamingos Hotel with more outstanding views of the coast, Senor Frogs for lunch (not included in the price), the Chapel of Peace and ended the day at Rosie's parent's house. They do not speak English but Rosie helped to translate. It was a very interesting experience to see how they live, how their houses are designed and how they survive with their garden and chickens in their back yard. We made our way up to the roof of their house to see another beautiful sight, pink and orange clouds over the bay and our ship in the distance. I highly recommend learning some Spanish for this cruise. It will help you in the stores, in the streets and also grants you a little deserved respect from the locals.
Rosie also made a stop at the Hard Rock Café so I could run in and get a pin (I collect them). It was very nice of her to make that extra stop for me and we gave her an extra tip for that.
The whole tour lasted about six hours and was thoroughly enjoyable. I highly recommend Rosie for a tour of Acapulco.
ZIHUATENEJO For the rest of the cruise, we booked excursions through the ship. Usually, we like to book independent excursions through local tour companies, however, given it was our first Mexican Riviera cruise, we were unfamiliar with the local companies and didn't really know what the "must see" attractions were. We booked Rustic and Folkloric Countryside for $69 each. We boarded a bus (a very comfortable bus with plush seats and lots of room) and began our approximately 20 minute ride out of the area to the countryside. The first stop was a coconut plantation. We were able to watch a farmer open coconuts, carve out the "meat," and grind up the coconut flakes. There were some coconut products available for purchase including a coconut, honey and brown sugar candy bar that I highly recommend you purchase. I believe it was one dollar for two large pieces. The plantation also makes pita bread with coconut baked inside that tasted like a sweet sandwich. We were able to try this for free. The next stop was a tile plantation. The tour guide explained the process of making the clay roofing tiles as a local formed them by hand and laid them in the sun to dry. During this presentation, I walked over to a hut where a man was making plates and bricks out of the clay. He did not speak any English but was eager to show me what he was doing and allowed me to take pictures of him. He was also proud to show me the water source for the plantation which was a sad sight to see - a brown creek with bugs floating on top of the current. The man told me he was 82 years old and in great shape, so I'm amazed at how they are able to keep themselves healthy and survive on what they have. He also showed me some of the plants they have growing on the plantation including blue agave cactus (for tequila), aloe vera, loufa, lemongrass, basil and oregano. Everything smelled so wonderful.
The final stop for this excursion was a large outdoor restaurant on the beach. We were served fried Spanish mackerel and some local vegetables as well as a free drink (this meal was included in the excursion price). It was a big meal and everything tasked pretty good. We were then given about a half hour to explore the beach. It was a very large beach with some local families and many vendors selling jewelry. The water was clear, clean and very refreshing to wade in.
PUERTO VALLARTA We booked "Mexican Cooking & City Tour" for $45 each. This excursion started with a bus ride into the city. We made a few stops and participated in a short walking tour of the waterfront areas. We were given some time to visit the Lady of Guadeloupe church; however, there was a ceremony taking place so we did not spend too much time there.
After walking through the city, we were taken to Santo Tequila for our cooking lesson and tequila tasting. We were taught how to make salsa, guacamole, tostadas and tortillas. It was a lot of fun and I've been making guacamole at home ever since this trip. We were also given free drink of choice. After eating, we were shown the tequila process and invited to participate in a tequila tasting that was not only a surprise, but a fun event that included four different types of tequilas and a lesson in how to say a Mexican cheer. There is some time to purchase tequila after the tasting. The tour then took us to a shopping area for about a half hour. We asked the tour guide to drop my mother and I off downtown so we could walk over to the Hard Rock Café and then we took a cab ride back to the ship for about $6.
CABO SAN LUCAS We booked "Deluxe Coastal Cruise" for $59. I had a feeling that, even though whale watching excursions were not suppose to start until mid-December (to give the whales a chance to settle in their seasonal homes), that the huge amount of coastal cruises would try to seek out the whale families and sure enough, we came across one. My goal for this trip was to see whales and I used a roll and a half of film on them. We were able to get pretty close and watch them swim with Los Arcos and Lovers Beach in the background. The cruise included lots of drinks (beer and margaritas, although the margaritas are not what you'd expect back home – it was tequila, triple sec and orange juice), a history discussion by a crew member and lots of pretty scenery. I think $59 is a little on the expensive side for what we got but seeing the whales made it worth the trip.
My mom and I walked into town to see Cabo Wabo and the Hard Rock Café and then took a water taxi (for $10 roundtrip) to Lovers Beach to get some sun and do some snorkeling. WOW! This is the neatest beach I've ever been too! The scenery is amazing with huge rocky boulders jolting out of the sand in strange forms and gold sand – the snorkeling wasn't too bad either. You have to take a water taxi to reach the beach and you will have to jump out of the boat into the shallow water to get to the beach – however there are a couple local guys willing to carry you and your belongings as long as you tip a couple bucks. It is highly recommended that you do not swim on the Pacific side of the beach because the current is very strong, but I recommend at least walking over to that side to see the rock formations and take some great pictures.
PUBLIC ROOMS The public rooms are very colorful and tastefully decorated. However, I got in the habit of tapping my fingernails against a lot of decorations throughout the ship and was disappointed to see that most of them were plastic, though they were made to look like concrete or marble. The ship was very clean and comfortable. The theater was very large and tiered well – so it was possible to see the whole stage from every seat. I enjoyed walking down the hallway outside the Steakhouse – it was painted like an outdoor sidewalk in Europe and with the sun rays coming through the windows, it didn't feel like you were on a cruise ship.
The only room I didn't like was the Carousel Bar – it was very tacky and I didn't like the whole circus theme. We also enjoyed the Spinnaker Lounge where the Second City performed on the last night as well as the Newly Wed Game Show and the talent show – all were great. Even though we didn't spend time in it, the Red Lion Pub was really neat. Usually the hang out for watching sports, it was like being in an old English pub. Gatsby's was a nice bar to get a drink at while you were waiting for your dinner table. There was usually a singer or piano player here.
We also used the internet café every day to email our significant other back home – it was $50 for about 100 minutes (I think) and there never seemed to be anyone in that café to help with the computers so you'll have to fend for yourself.
There was only one store for shopping but it had everything you would need including souvenirs, perfume, jewelry, clothing and all the cheap Bijoux Terner items
DISEMBARKATION This process took a long time. I'm not sure why some cruise lines make you go through customs on the ship and others make you go through it once you get off the ship. In any case, with NCL we were given colored luggage tags. We had to get new tags because we needed to get off the ship for an early flight. We had to be out of our rooms by around 8am, then we had to wait in a public room until our luggage tags were called – but this didn't mean we could get off the ship. This meant we could go wait in line for customs. And it was a good thing we ended up getting in line for customs before our luggage tags were called because the line was SO long. We were in line for about an hour. Then we waited for our tags to be called in order to leave the ship.
IN SHORT I really enjoyed this itinerary. The Mexican Riviera was much more fun and exciting than I thought it was going to be. I was nervous that I would miss the clear blue waters and sandy beaches of the Caribbean, but the dramatic cliffs, mountains and traditional ways of these port cities made it a thoroughly enjoyable cruise. The cruise ships' excursions were a lot of fun and the onboard entertainment was excellent. I look forward to going back to visit cities again. I would highly recommend the NCL Star's for this trip, not for the food, but for the adventure, the scenery and the itinerary.
If you have any questions about my experience, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star by DougMacP Mexico February 5, 2006
Before I booked the cruise I had concerns. Can a person who loves mid-size ships and "traditional" cruising find happiness going "freestyle" on a large ship? Am I going to miss the set dinner hours and the security of knowing with whom I'm dining each night? Will the service be impersonal and reservations impossible to come by? Will the food in the specialty restaurants be worth the extra money? If you like a review that is one paragraph long the answers are: yes, no, no and definitely yes. If you interested in more detail, read on.
I've done just under 20 cruises on the major standard, premium and several of the luxury cruise lines. On my last two cruises with Holland America and Celebrity I ended up changing tables because of (how does one say this nicely?) less than desirable tablemates. That is the risk with traditional cruising; bad assigned tablemates can make a cruise a miserable experience. While it's not the end of the world to move tables, I always felt sort of guilty about it, hiding from the people atmy former table the best I could the rest of the cruise. With freestyle I theorized I could control my own destiny, and that of my friend who was a first time cruiser.
Embarkation: 40 minutes from drop off to opening the stateroom door. NCL doesn't do the complete check in at the pier. You are allowed to board by group number into the ship where your credit card information is obtained, picture taken and cruise card is given. There is a bit of a musical chairs quality to this arrangement in reverse. The quicker you get up from where you're seated when your group number is called the closer to the front of the line you'll be. Tip: If you have e-docs and didn't receive luggage tags make sure you get the luggage tags from the pier personnel curb side first thing. Have pre-printed stick-on labels with your name and address so all you have to do is write your stateroom number on the tag.
Cabin: Balcony cabin on deck 10. I enjoyed the cabin very much with a few minor issues. It was attractive, well maintained and comfortable. The beds were great and I appreciated the duvets instead of the usual top sheet and blankets. The closets however are bizarre. It is a two door arrangement that gives you a larger hanging area but to access the shelves you have to literally get down on your knees, move any hanging clothes out of the way and reach around the side. I much prefer the three door arrangement where the middle door is the location of the safe and shelves. If you don't know about the closet light (located in the back behind the closet rod) it would be an impossible arrangement, especially because there are only three other drawers in the cabin.
The cabins seem to have soundproofing issues. Perhaps it was because we were blessed with amazingly loud neighbors with children above and beside us. If you leave the balcony door open, be prepared to hear everything! Beyond that, the stateroom creaks and groans (probably from the ceiling panels) which can be quite annoying at night. Tip: Bring ear plugs.
Public Areas: The Star is a big ship, no doubt about that, a true floating resort. The lack of a unifying ship theme troubled me at first, but I soon discovered that if you aren't in a public room to your liking, just keep moving and you'll find one. There are some beautiful rooms and lounges on the ship, covering almost all design themes. The longer the cruise went on, the more I appreciated the diversity of styles. I also loved the full outside promenade on deck 7, something sadly designed out of other modern cruise ships.
What I didn't appreciate is the pool deck. The two humungous water slides absolutely dominate the area. Not only are they unattractive, but they don't work! There isn't enough water flow or steepness for anyone other than the kids to use them. Trust me, I tried. I ended up crawling down one half of the way. The visual impact and atmosphere of the pool area would be greatly enhanced if they were removed. The other gripe is lack of "prime" sun lounging areas. Part of the problem is that they use the entire main deck area by the pool for table and chairs, instead of lounges. Another problem is that many passengers (for lack of a better word) "hog" the chairs. They'll lie in the sun for an hour or two but leave the towels there all day in case they want to come back later. Many cruise lines handle this by having the deck staff promptly remove the towels unless other personal items (bags, books, etc.) are left with them. I think this would solve a lot of problems, since it's easier to train the staff then to teach the guests manners.
Entertainment: There are three types of entertainment on a ship. Production shows, headliners, and lounge acts. Having worked with a production company in Vegas in the past I learned long ago not to expect too much from the entertainment on a ship, any ship. "Entertainment" is a relative concept, if you think you'll be seeing a Vegas or Broadway quality show, a famous headliner, or you'll catch a rising star in the lounge, you'll only be disappointed. With that said, overall I was very impressed with the Star. When it comes to shipboard entertainment, NCL knows its business.
The usual cruise ship production show is heavily lip synced with choreography so amateurish it would work if the ship was in the process of capsizing. Not the case here. The first show Music of the Night, the tribute to Andrew Lloyd Weber was very entertaining, well sung and danced. The second show "It's Fame" ended up being cancelled half through both shows due to technical issues. What was presented was extremely well done. The last show Cirque Pacific was my least favorite. While I enjoyed the Chinese acrobats very much, the "flying numbers" were done a death defying 10 feet above the stage (gosh!) and the Jean Ann Ryan Company dance numbers looked something like Tai-Kwon-Do meets Jazzercise. In this case less would have been more, just focus on the acrobats. Since it was the night before the end of the cruise they also bring out the Captain and fill the stage with crew members for an inane pandering tribute to themselves about how wonderful they made your cruise experience. Obviously, I was not moved to tears.
Also in the main showroom are the obligatory comic and magician (which I missed) and for our cruise the cabaret performer was Lorna Luft, the daughter of Judy Garland, and the far less frantic and famous half sister of Liz Minnelli. She did an abbreviated version of her club act without the benefit of photo and video clips.
NCL really seems to appreciate and understand lounge acts. From the bands to piano players the quality of the performers was surprisingly good. I won't name names, just wander around and I'm sure you'll find a room and a performer you enjoy.
Dining: NCL is a standard line, with an average outside cabin costing less than $100 per day per person for this cruise. To expect anything other than mass market cruise cuisine is not realistic. In the end, you get what you pay for. But for $15 to $25 per day more you can have a completely different experience. When it came to the specialty restaurants, the Star shines brightly (pun intended). In fact, the dinners were better then on luxury cruises for which I paid more than $300 per day. Shortly after boarding I set up reservations at Le Bistro, Teppanyaki (at Ginza) Soho and Cagney's for consecutive days. We ended up repeating Ginza twice and did Le Bistro one more time. Each of these restaurants greatly exceeded my expectations for service, food and presentation in a relaxed yet elegant atmosphere. We did have one dinner in the Versailles room, where the food and service was surprising good, certainly comparable with Holland America and Celebrity.
We ate most of our breakfasts and lunches at the Market CafÃ©, which is the buffet restaurant on deck 12. The food was perfectly acceptable as far as variety, taste and freshness. The Market CafÃ©'s problem is the layout. The CafÃ© runs the full length on the starboard (right) side, but only half the way on the port, therefore there really isn't enough space to accommodate the number of people who utilize the room without cramming tables everywhere. It is not a classy room by any stretch of the imagination and the tables and chairs are rather unattractive. Make sure to check out the buffets when they are set up pool side, they have great chicken and ribs.
Service: The service staff on the Star is multi-cultural, with Asians and Eastern Europeans being in the majority in the restaurants and lounges. In days gone by some cruise lines would brag that their service staff was predominately Filipino's (technically Asian in these politically correct times), who came from a "culture of service". That sort of smiling, gracious and familiar service became the expectation of cruise passengers, and appears to exist to this day. Now you add into the mix Eastern Europeans, who approach service in a less familiar and more formal way. To many they come off as unsmiling, aloof and generally stern. Even when they do their cruise line jobs well, the passengers never warm up to them. I certainly agree with a recent review I read about the Star, what passengers may think as "spotty" service, in reality may just be the cultural difference. It was certainly my experience aboard this cruise. My only minor complaint about "service" had to do with the lounges. Be prepared to say "no thank you" a lot if you don't want a drink. Since the servers roam the various lounges instead of having a set service area you are constantly being asked if you want a beverage, even if you just ordered one from another server. It really bugged me at first, but after awhile I got used to just saying no.Ports: We booked after Acapulco was dropped from the itinerary and were actually grateful about that. With all the recent news reports about gang wars, drive by shootings and general deterioration of the city many passengers felt the same way, besides I've been to Acapulco a number of times both by land and sea. NCL offered what I thought were some good and reasonable priced excursions in all the ports, although generally you can always do better at the pier or in town price wise, with the possible exception Manzanillo which does not have organized tourist facilities like the other ports. Personally, I always do my own research before I leave. If you haven't checked it out www.portreview.com do so, it's a wonderful site
Manzanillo: At first glance the downtown looks tiny, but like the tip of an iceberg most of it is hidden from view. I really enjoyed walking into town and exploring the back streets and shops. Manzanillo is a working port town and has one of the highest standards of living and lowest crime rates in Mexico. You are not assaulted by vendors, or children trying to sell "Chiclets". Speaking a few words of Spanish really helps here, as the town has not gone gaga for tourists (yet). Don't get me wrong, the people are friendly, it's just your not the center of their universe. Since NCL does not have recommended vendors here (meaning merchants who pay kickbacks) the Port Guide they provide is completely lacking.
Puerto Vallarta: I've been to PV more than 10 times, including an extended land based vacation last year. For "beach time" skip the large chain hotels, and head to Playa Los Muertos (beach) in the old section of town also know as the Romance Zone. If you tell the taxi driver to drop you off at the El Dorado Restaurant you'll be in the heart of things. Just walk up the beach until you find a spot you like, and then let the café personnel know you want to chair. For the cost of some drinks or food you can have a beach chair under a palapa (umbrella) and the best people watching in PV.
Mazatlan: On my perpetual least favorite Mexican resort town list. It doesn't have the sophistication, visual impact and beach environment PV has, or the shopping and glitzy newness of Cabo. Unless you're looking for diamonds or gemstones skip the tiny over-hyped "Golden Zone". Tour old town in one of the cute open air taxi's and save your shopping for the facility right next to the pier. You can get everything there that you could get in town, and actually at better prices.
Cabo: The only trouble with Cabo is time, or lack thereof. On almost every cruise I've been on the ship has to leave by 2pm to get back to the States. Therefore, Cabo is always a bit of a "rush." The most Americanized of the Ports, in the Marina area you'll swear you're in Southern California (is that a good thing?), complete with a Mall.
Cruise Staff and Activities: The Star offers the usually barrage of shipboard activities from Bingo to Trivia hosted by a very competent and charming cruise staff. If you were bored on this cruise you were: (1) anti social, (2) traveling with the wrong person(s), or (3) in need of anti-depressant medication. Make sure to check out the interactive Live at Five call-in show with the Cruise Director, it's a hoot.
Fellow Passengers: The whole gambit, from new born babies to the so to be departed, sophisticated travelers to drunken louts, chiseled fitness enthusiasts to enormous buffet junkies. Truly a bit of everything and everyone.
Disembarkation: No need to be out of your cabin at 8:00am like the old days, NCL continues to have a very urbane process for re-entering the world. You can stay in your cabin until your luggage tag color is called then you proceed to the designated lounge where you "clear" customs on the ship, instead of at the Pier. This eliminates the risk of being late off the ship because a person not of US citizenship doesn't understand announcements and cannot be located, because under the "Pier" system all non US residents were required to clear customs before any US citizens could disembark. While the itinerary said we wouldn't arrive in Long Beach until 9:00am, we actually were off the ship by then in plenty of time for our flight at 11:20am.
In the end: Every time I fill out the little survey cards you get the day before the end of the cruise I always come to the same conclusion; the complete experience is more than the sum of it's parts. Things can be less than perfect yet I still thoroughly enjoy myself. In the end it won't matter that a port got changed, or the waitperson trying to anticipate my every need didn't look completely thrilled while doing it. That's all small stuff. The big stuff is about completely relaxing and savoring the moment. The freedom of Freestyle dinning, and the quality of the specialty restaurants was the highlight of the cruise for me. This "traditional" mid-size ship lover couldn't help but appreciate the product the Star offered, and I'm certainly not complaining about the price.DougMacP@aol.com
Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star by Aj and Tonya Williams Mexico February 5, 2006
Welcome to the Williams review, go get a cup of coffee because boy howdie this review is long. After 6 months of reading every review myself and my wife could get our hands on, as well as scouring the far reaches of the internet for every and any information we could find on our ship, we now sit down to write our own review. May it inspire you and excite you as your own cruise approaches.
The joyous day of embarkation we made haste from our Santa Maria home (Santa Barbara Area) at 8:00 am, kissed both of our kid's goodbye, 5 and 16 year old, said thank you to grandma for watching the kids and then we went out the door praying our youngest wouldn't scream "No mommy and daddy don't go." But alas, she was fine and it proved to be a good sign as we started our trip. Like I had mentioned, my wife and I had spent at least an hour a day, sometimes up to 4 hours or more, just looking atpictures and reading reviews of the ship and the ports. So we were a little leery of the negative reviews and had to dig deep to have a positive outlook going into the trip. My parents who have been on many cruises before gave us a little advice. They said, your on vacation, and your kids are fine at home, enjoy yourself, and don't be negative. That seemed to be enough for us, we are both glass half full kinda people anyway.
Embarkation: We arrived at the harbor after a three hour drive. That even included a stop at In and Out Burger in Ventura, but they weren't open. (Don't other people want hamburgers at 9:30 am?) Pulling off the freeway was like catching that first glimpse of the Materhorn at Disneyland from the freeway. That feeling of "Yes we are gonna have fun now." We know from previous reviews that multiple ships in the harbor meant a longer check in, with possible delays. So the fact that there was the RCCL Vision and The Island Princess with our ship The NCL Star all in port at the same time left my wife and I both saying "Uh OH!" When we pulled up to the check gate at San Pedro harbor we were asked what ship we were on, and we told them the Star, which got us a nice NCL person who said "Well the Star isn't boarding until 1:00 because there are two other ships in port and the terminal is really busy, you are going to need to turn around and come back later, sorry" So we made the u turn and went to a restaurants at the port.
The restaurant was Acapulco's, where we were greeted by a smiling hostess who led us to a table over looking the water and told us of the Champaign buffet. The vacation had begun. We took pictures, had a margarita, and ate at the buffet. When our clock said ten till one we jumped back in the car and went back to the dock where we were allowed to enter this time. I dropped my wife and the luggage off, and proceeded over to the long term parking lot. Its not to hard to find, just go back out the way you came but instead of going onto the street you take a right into the Catalina Terminal area. I parked the car and had a nice man in a bus already waiting for me to ferry me back to the boarding area. I tossed him a couple of bucks and met up with my wife. I did forget her Starbucks coffee back in the car, but hey, we are on vacation right? We were not sent any luggage tags so this became our next mission, find the tags. There seemed to be an abundance of NCL staffers so I just asked one of them.
Other reviews stated that they were unable to find any NCL staff, but when we were there at 1:00 they we everywhere. We only had one large suitcase that we needed a tag (Ya one, my wife packs very good) for so I joined 20 other people in line to get our luggage tag. A friendly NCL staffer said hi and asked if I knew what line I was in, I stated "Yes, that I just needed to get one tag." So she said hold on a minute and she went and got our tag for us. I tipped her a couple bucks for saving us the time of standing in line, which she told me "Sir, that's really not necessary." I tipped her anyway. From bags on the curb to walking into our cabin, it took 55 minutes. Smooth, fast, as stress free as one could expect.
Cabin: We had a BB category on Deck 9, with a balcony. Upon entering the room we were surprised by its size, and as we put all our carry ons down and began to take in the cabin we were very impressed at the nice wood cabinetry and separate shower, and bathroom and toilet area. There was adequate room for all of our stuff in the closet and the three drawers. There is a light in the closet, and decent lighting in the whole room. The bed was two beds pulled together to make a queen, but neither my wife or I ever ventured into the middle of the bed because it wasn't to comfortable there. The pillows were the cotton puffy variety and being accustomed to feather pillows at home this was kinda uncomfortable. But hey we are not at home so grin and bear it or you can tip your room steward and he/she can fetch you some feather pillows. The balcony was wonderful and received many hours of enjoyment once the weather warmed enough so someone from California could be out there for any length of time. Which occurred once we hit day two. There is also a small TV, a phone, a small desk, a couch that can be converted into another bed, a real hairdryer, and a hot water brewer. The brewer can make tea but it is not a coffee pot like some of the reviews stated. We even brought our own coffee, being the coffee aficionados we are, but were sadly disappointed by the tea maker. But hey were on vacation. There was one power outlet in the room, and one outlet in the bathroom, but the outlet in the bathroom didn't seem to work very well and didn't even heat up my wife's curling iron. Women you may have trouble with your fluffing because my wife said the lighting was horrible for that, but I thought she looked great the whole cruise. Lastly the small fridge is small but adequate for smaller drinks and such. What it is really great for is to stockpile all your goodies from the midnight chocolate buffet.
Tip: we brought an air freshener for the toilet area, because it is small with no ventilation or fan, and hey 8 days of cruise food has to go somewhere. Another great item we brought was a power strip. This allowed us to use multiple electric devices plugged in at the same time. You might think, hey, I don't have that much to plug in, but we brought a clock, digital camera battery charger, video camera charger, laptop, and a curling iron. Sometimes several of these were being used at the same time. Negative 1: While the cabin was beautiful we did have a couple of issues. One issue which was possibly the most irritating was that the cabin creaked. And popped. And snapped. When we were on the sea the first night, from that point on our beautiful cabin began a symphony of irritating sounds. Not constant mind you, but erratic and spaced out sounds that would allow you to begin to fade to sleep, then be jolted by creaking, and popping. But hey were on vacation. And I kind of got used to it by day three. Negative 2: while deck 9 is a great deck to be on. You will find that the two days you go into ports with the aid of tender boats, that's the fore mentioned tender boats are right below your room, and they begin there day at 6:30 am. Nothing like the wake up call of heavy machinery sounds pushing large boats out over the side of the deck, and heavy cable singing wake up its 6:30, and hey you're on vacation.
Service: My wife and I had no problem with service in any of the areas of the ship. In fact we feel that service for the most part was exceptional. There were times that the waiters and waitresses were a little swamped, but of course everyone wanted to eat around the same time. Another thing we noticed is that a lot of the waitresses were from Russian republics. And most of the time we felt like we were being waited on by the Russian mob. (not in a bad way, it was actually funny) **Russian voice: "Are you done sir, I can make you be done."
Other reviews had stated their angst with the bar staff that walks around the pool or bar areas asking if you want a drink. Yes there are a lot of them, and yes if you don't have a drink in your hand they will ask you if you want something, but in our opinion, and this is our review, it is a resort type atmosphere and I think those same people who complained about getting asked to much if they wanted a drink would have complained if they did want one and no one asked them. I think the later would be worse than the former. No one was ever rude about our refusal for a drink, but they did ask a lot. You can definitely tell the different styles of personalities from different countries. Some people who had more subdued attitudes may be portrayed as having a bad attitude, but that wasn't the case, they just weren't as overly friendly as others. If you are the kind of person who is a friendly semi outgoing person, then you will find this a great place to meet people from all over the world. If you are the kind of person who finds faults, you probably will. Or is you are starting your cruise with high, unrealistic expectations of being constantly catered too, then this may not be the best choice. Freestyle dining doesn't really fit with this. You may want to try Celebrity or Holland America cruise lines where they are extremely focused on the minute details.
Ship: Wow this ship was really pretty. This ship was extremely well laid out, with all the bars, public areas and restaurants. There are a lot of windows. Everything is easy to find, and you never felt overcrowded. The style was not gaudy, but modern and sheik. From the art work in the halls to the beautiful 3d art on the stairways, we were both impressed by the level of dÃ©cor. It all blended very well with all the different themes, and it will be a dream for those who like to video and take pictures.
The ships stabilizers have to be top notch because we didn't even feel the motion of the ocean, until the last day. There was a little movement, but nothing compared to what we have seen on other ships.
Negative 1: the chairs in the Stardust theatre do slope down. Maybe not all of them, but the ones we sat in over several days. The good thing about the seats though is that each one has a vent/blower in the rear of the seats, so it was never stuffy. The balcony is a waste of space because you have pillars and curved seats with bad layout that make the balcony a poor viewing area.
Negative 2: Way too much fake stinking smoke. I am all for setting the mood, but "Dang!" this smoke had a hay day on our sinuses and contacts, and it managed to follow us into the Spinnaker Lounge upstairs where they did the same smoke effect to the extreme. "Dang!"
Extra: Smoothies and alcoholic drinks were very expensive and small. You are charged a tip of 15% with every drink. Tip: order your bar drinks in a regular glass. If not they will bring it to you in a special collectors glass that says NCL Star, and it will cost you $3.00 more for the cup. The servers will automatically bring your drink in these if you don't request a regular cup.
Ports: We did pick this cruise for the fact it was an 8 day run. It was also a bonus that it went to Acapulco and Ixtapa, which were two ports we hadn't seen when we did the cruise one year earlier to the Mexican Riviera. We were aware of the change in itinerary because as I told you at the first of the review my wife and I spent many hours per night looking at cruise info for fun. We tried to contact NCL and request a postponement of our cruise date to a time that included the two other ports, but they were VERY firm in saying that this was not an option. I then tried my hand at negotiation, which I consider myself pretty good at. Only to find that this was a dead end that ended with "well sir if we did something extra for you, we would have to do it for every passenger." So I decided at that moment either to come down with some highly infectious disease that would allow the medical insurance we had purchased kick in a reimburse us our money or to just let it go, and prepare ourselves for the cruise. We picked the second choice if you hadn't guessed.
Port 1-Manzanillo We pulled into this port first and arrived around 9:45. While it was exciting to be reaching a port, we were kind of put off by the fact that there was a large factory belching massive amounts of black smoke into the air. This smoke was being pushed by the wind down the coast and over the city of Manzanillo. We later found out that this is a coal run electric power plant that provides power to six states in that area. Hows that for useful information? We don't have anything else to say about this port because we had determined that we would stay on the ship while we were in this port. Mainly this decision was based on the fact that my parents had taken a cruise to this port two months earlier and said that the city was nothing to get excited about. And they know ports. They go on cruises every 3 to 6 months. When I grow up I want to be just like them. It turns out that our decision to stay onboard was a good one because most people were back on the ship within a few hours, and we could hear the grumbling of "I really didn't like that port, wish we had stayed on the ship." There are a few nice hotels down there, you may want to find one and camp out for the day. You can watch the smoke from the factory make puffy clouds in the shape of animals.
Puerto Vallarta This is a good port. There are so many options for things to do in this port. I would suggest reading other reviews and finding what fits you. This was the second time in a year that we have been to Acapulco. The first time we went we had 6 people in our party, and we rented a SUV and took a tour around the area for 1 Â½ hours for $65.00. This same type of tour was available on the ship for $30.00 per person. Check with the cab drivers when you get off the ship. They can take you anywhere you want to go at a considerable savings. Just agree on the price before you get in, and don't forget to barter, or they wont respect you. Remember this is what they do for a living, and you probably make more money in a month than they do in 4 months. This trip we decided to walk two blocks to the Puerto Vallarta Krystal Resort. We are so glad we did. It is a resort perched on 30+ acres. Primarily set up for time shares, and doubling as a resort also. There are at least three large pool areas, and easy access to the beach and watersports. We spent $20.00 each and purchased a day pass which got us access to the pool and facilities. The $20.00 was redeemable for food or drink.
Tip: Get towels on the ship, you can check them out, because the day pass didn't include towels, they were only for hotel guests. And make sure you tell you waiter to not serve anything that goes over the credit limit you have, because they will keep serving you as long as you want. We asked for our total about 1/2 of the way into our day, and had to do the math to figure if we had gone over or not. Well we did and it cost us an additional $12.00. But hey, were on vacation. There are other beautiful resorts that you can go to. And in regards to shopping this port doesn't offer the best deals. They will let you walk away. Check out Mazatlan for the better bargains, unless you see something you just have to get. But once you have seen 5 shops you pretty much know what items will be in the next 500 shops. I think they all buy from the same place, and the variation is sparse.
Mazatlan We are not really excursion, dolphin kissing types of people. We like to sit at resorts and relax. Shopping is by far the best value in this port, but most of the things you will be buying are not that expensive anyways. So if you really want that trinket in Puerto Vallarta or else ware you won't be spending more than a few dollars difference.
This was also the second time we had been here in less than a year. I like Mazatlan depending on what you do. There are people that will greet you when you get off the tram that takes you to the gate to leave the port. Many of them will offer you free cab rides, and take you to their resort. When we were there El Cid, and Pueblo Bonito representatives were there. Pueblo Bonito offers a 1 hour seminar that tells all about their time share options, and finishes with giving you full run of their facilities and free food and drinks for your party all the time you are there for the day. They will also take you to the resort and back to the ship for free. Not a bad investment for an hour worth of time. This was a gorgeous resort and worth going to.
Tip: At the end of the presentation on the time share just tell them you are a real estate agent and you would want to look over the contract at length and do research before you purchased anything. You will get the real estate shuffle as they push you out the door saying "Next."
Cabo San Lucas I have a tremendously soft spot in my heart for Cabo. It was a place that my family and I used to visit in the 80's when Devo was king and big hair was the rave. And what ever happened to spandex and parachute pants, I hope those come back in, but my wife says there is something in our marriage vows that permit me from wearing either.
I digress, Cabo is another place with many options. You can pick from any of the luxury hotels and plant yourself for the day. We chose to do just that and stayed at the Finistera Resort. But most other resorts that are on the water are top notch. Most wont bother you as long as you purchase drinks and or food. Most drinks are in the $4-$6 range. With food in similar ranges at most resorts. The town of Cabo is atypical to other towns on the cruise venue, so not much new here. Its fun to watch the boats come into and out of the harbor from "The Office" restaurant. The Office has been there since the 80's. It is an open aired restaurant, and truly beautiful.
For those more adventurous you can rent any number of water craft. But I caution you on this because Cabo has some areas with really extreme undertow. Some areas that are deadly. Plus Cabo is loaded with sharks, so care is needed in regard to the choice of a swim spot. Don't just dive in anywhere. We have seen hammerhead sharks in as far as the port side of the Arch. Lovers beach is safe enough, just don't go to far out.
Tip: Do you know how to get away from a shark? Cut your buddy.(Joke)
Shows: We did skip the first nights show, because we had seen in several reviews that it was an intro type show anyway. So we are unable to comment on that one. But the rest of the shows were enjoyable. Peoples taste varies so much, one person may really enjoy the shows on board while another may think they stink. Last year we traveled with the family on the Vision of the Seas with RCCL, and we felt the shows on the Star were better than on the Vision. But to each his own. The comedy was funny, the magic was interesting and funny. The singing was good, with each show being different form the next. And what else are you going to do that is better than a show. You can sit in the bars anytime, and the casino is open 24 hours. So I would say go and experience the shows. Some you'll like some you may not, but hey, your on vacation.
Dining: All of the paid or main restaurants do not allow jeans, shorts, or beach attire after 5p.m. You will also need to plan out your meal times unless you wanted to eat in the main dining areas, because you will need to make reservations. And making them the day of your dining will not usually assure you a time earlier than 8:30. I have seen so many people complain that they really dislike the fact that they have to pay for some of the other restaurants. But I watched people pay $6 plus for alchohol in tiny glasses, or extra for the special glass and did not blink. And in the ports people were spending money on food, which I think is a brave endeavor eating anything that was prepared in an unknown kitchen in Mexico. I know their health laws are not like here in the States.
A bonus with freestyle dining is that you get a flexible dining time. There were times when we had cruised with other lines and we weren't hungry when our scheduled dining time was. But you didn't have a choice unless you wanted to come back two hours later. We ate when we wanted. This was partly true however. While freestyle does enable you that freedom of dining times, you must make reservations in most areas, and you can't cancel them after certain times. You get charged $5.00 if you cancel per person. So you have to know a day in advance when you want to eat. The time is your choice so I guess its still kind of freestyle. Who's to argue that point, obviously the people from NCL have put a lot of thought into this concept, and overall it works really well. If you enjoy the same waiter every night like on standard dining cruises, you may need an extra Mai Tai to mellow you out, because odds are you won't have the same waitperson twice. We ate at one pay restaurant, the Ginza, and it was great. For $12.50 per person you get two main courses and a dessert. You finish your meal with green tea. We ate there two times, and both times my wife and I could not eat two full meals each so we didn't try. The first night since we didn't eat more than two meals between the two of us, our waiter took $12.50 off the bill, and only charged us an additional $4.00 for the a la carte price on some items. This was unexpected and unnecessary, but they did it. The service at this restaurant was stellar, what one could expect with high end lines. The food was beautiful. We did take pictures of every meal we had on the cruise, and some were very nice looking.
The other restaurant we chose was the Blue Lagoon. Let me say that it was ok. The fish and chips was better than average. But order extra fish because you only get two small pieces. Everything in this restaurant is made fresh. We try to avoid carbs as much as possible so we didn't try some of the other choices. This is a good place to get your food and take it back to your cabin.
The next place we tried was the Endless Summer. This is Mexican food, and was difficult to get a reservation for. It is a beautiful setting on the second level in the main atrium with great views down onto the main level of the ship. Fun place to people watch, and feel like you are really on a cruise. This is a fantastic example of great ship design, and is only appreciated at its fullest when you see it. This ones a keeper. My wife had fabulous ribs, so she says, and great enchiladas.
There are two main dining rooms that accommodate everyone who doesn't want to use the pay restaurants, these are the Versailles and the Aqua. We never ate at the Aqua, but did several times for several different meals at the Versailles. The two places are very similar with slight variations in preparation. Food was ok at best in the Versailles, with most meals missing anything that came from a cow. Steak was a difficult thing to find, and the one night that they had steak it was tough and raw. We did send it back which they accommodated, but it came back the same way. The bonus in this room was the view and the CrÃ¨me Brule, and the Banana Lumpia desserts. Find them and eat them as much as you can, because they are the only truly great desserts on the cruise. Most others desserts we airy and bland. I should know I book cruises with desserts in mind. Guess I missed the review on that one.
Next was the market cafe. This is the ships full time buffet, and while the food was good, there wasn't much in the area of variety. They have a vegetarian section that has different choices, so be sure to check both. I am not a vegetarian and there were times that the items there where better than in the other section. Again desserts were bland, and juice is only available in the morning. So if you want juice throughout the day you better take some back to your fridge. Just one more point regarding selection. My wife and I pondered this. Really trying to figure out why the selections were so few in the buffet. We came up with this. There is usually different items just outside by the pool at the Grill, so if you combine these two areas, Voila, more choices.
Surely in the 8 days we didn't starve.
Lastly the Bar B Ques. The ship had several of these. All of them featured hamburgers and chicken, sometimes ribs. All Bar B Ques were great, tasty, and fun. I really like the hamburgers. Im not sure what seasoning they used, but they were delicious. If anyone knows how those were prepared I would appreciate an email.
The grill is available out by the pool, and doubles as an omelet station and waffle station for breakfast. The fresh made omelets are worth the extra few minutes you have to wait. The rest of the day the grill serves those yummy hamburgers and other assorted foods including hot dogs.
And no dining section is complete without talking about the Chocolate Buffet. How can there be any problems with this concept. Its chocolate and it's a buffet. Wow, sign me up. The desserts were beautiful and the only regret was that these same desserts were nowhere to be found anywhere else or at any other time on the ship. I am glad the plate they handed me was relatively small because I would have filled a wheelbarrow if they would have given me one. The buffet starts at 11:30 and we were seventh in line at 11:00 p.m. By 11:20 the line was down half the length of the ship, and we seriously considered selling our spot for $20. Most of the chocolate yummies we brought back and stashed in our fridge and truly enjoyed them the next day. Try the white chocolate dipped macaroons.
Spa: We didn't do any of the pay spa facilities, so wont comment on them. What we did know is that you can walk past the desk through a mens side and a womens side, and slip into a great lap pool, two large Jacuzzis, and a therapeutic spa that had very violent bubbles. But violent in a great way. There is no charge for this area of the ship, and it gets very little use. So enjoy it, and it makes a great first night getaway when everyone else is at that intro show in the Stardust theatre, you can sneak away to the spa, enjoy the violent bubbles, and sit in a puffy lounge chair that sits in the back of the ship with slanted windows peering out at the wake of were you have been. Ahhhhhhh.
Disembarkation: We had a 9:45 disembarkation time. The main restaurants are open from 7-9:00, either Versailles, Aqua, or Market Cafe, and room service is available. You can lounge in the public areas while you wait for your time. When you are called you proceed to the center of the ship and take the stairs or elevators up to deck twelve where you shuffle to the front of the ship to the Spinnaker Lounge to go through customs on the ship. You then proceed with yellow slip in hand down to deck 4 where you will show your slip, slide your sea card for the last time, and exit the ship. SOB. All of the luggage has already been offloaded at this point and you just go to your color to look for anything you may have had sent there. Plus: Last year on the RCCL Vision we waited in the hallways with our two kids and sat on the floor with hundreds of other cruisers, because you have to clear out of your cabin. It also took twice as long, and was uncomfortable. The NCL method of disembarkation was as good as we have seen. Negative: This last day of leaving and going home for everyone is a tense day. There are many cranky people, and rightly so. The vacation is over. So mentally prepare yourself for the people that need a time out, or a nap, and haven't had one.
Summary: My wife says it's the most relaxing thing she has ever done in her life. She says "be ok with just sitting and that most married couples should get away like this at least once a year." I say that we both enjoyed the Freestyle concept and enjoyed the selections of restaurants to choose from. I missed the higher end desserts, but didn't starve on the trip. The ports proved warm and enjoyable with the only real disappointment being Manzanillo. But overall it was a joy to be on this beautiful vessel. And hey we were on vacation.
Embarkation We were to depart at the San Pedro port in Los Angeles. The embarkation process on this cruise was the worst I have ever encountered. >From start to finish it took about two hours. Some NCL officials were going around telling people they must get a porter to take all their bigger luggage before checking in. However, neither the NCL reps nor the porters were very proactive in helping people get their big luggage out of their hands.
Cabin We booked a room on Deck 11 with a balcony, mid-ship. It was a decent sized room with relatively ample living space. The typical amenities were there: coffee machine, hair dryer, safe, small fridge, and a very small TV. There is a drawer with two shelves. Also, there is a decent sized closet with more shelf space inside. However, the shelf space in the closet is rather hard to get to, since you literally have to be inside the closet to grab your stuff.
Dining Rooms NCL offers Freestyle Cruising, which means we can dine wherever, whenever we want. The main venue is the Versailles dining room. There are also other dining roomsthat specialize in different cuisines. Some specialty restaurants are free, some aren't. Here's my review on some of the restaurants we tried:
*Versailles (no surcharge): Food quality in Versailles is iffy. There were times when the food was absolutely delicious, and times when it was horrible. However, in all cases, I realize that NCL does not care about presentation of food. My experience with service in Versailles has been negative. For instance, the first night we had to wait about 10 minutes before our server even came to acknowledge our presence. When I asked for pepper, he simply removed a card that was blocking the salt and pepper shakers, and basically hinted I should use that instead of expecting fresh ground pepper from him.
*La Trattoria (no surcharge): While this is a typical pasta joint on Deck 12 with typical pasta dishes, the service at this restaurant was superb. These guys really went out of their way to make guests feel comfortable and welcome. Don't expect a nice Italian theme restaurant here. This "restaurant" is simply a cordoned-off section of the Market Caf頢uffet area. In the morning, it serves as the other side of Market Caf黠at night, they turn it into "La Trattoria" by dimming the lights and adding tablecloths. Reservations are strongly suggested.
*Le Bistro ($15 surcharge per person): I don't think there is anything special about Le Bistro, unless you like fondue. Even so, the fondue dessert won't get any praise from me. I have to admit that it takes place in a nicer setting, with an upscale feel, so it's perfect if you want to celebrate a special occasion.
After speaking to other guests on board, I realize I'm not the only one who feels service is horrible at NCL. My expectations are not high; I simply ask for polite and speedy service. Polite and speedy are not how I would describe the wait staff on NCL Star.
We received a notice of itinerary change when we were getting ready to embark. There were no prior attempts on NCL's part to notify us of the so called "rotor" problems that prevented us from traveling further south to Acapulco and Ixtapa. So as a replacement, we were going to stop in Mazatlan and Manzanillo. For this inconvenience, we got a credit of $50 per person.
We heard that NCL is notorious for leaving people behind if they are running a bit late. So we took the NCL shore tours at three of the four ports even though it would be a lot cheaper to grab a cab and taking a tour that way.
Manzanillo: We took the Comala/Colima tour that involved going to the Pyramids, visiting a cathedral and a museum, and stopping for lunch downtown. This tour was interesting, but not great. The restaurant they took us to, however, was fabulous -- very authentic Mexican food. The people in Manzanillo do not speak English well, so brush up on a bit of Spanish if you intend to buy something.
Puerto Vallarta: This was my third time in PV, so we decided to take the ATV tour. It was a lot of fun - we went on the back roads and in some instances went over water banks, etc. My only advice if you want to take this tour: Bring your own bandana. The ATV place did give us bandanas, but I soon realized they were useless. I guess they weren't made of high quality material and therefore didn't filter out the dust. That night I had plenty of gunk in my nose and throat. Also, try to find goggles that are not ripped apart. I had a rock that was stuck in my eye for a better part of the evening because my goggles were obviously very used.
Mazatlan: This was the one port where we ventured out on our own. We just took a cab, asked the taxi driver to take us to the cathedral in old Mazatlan, then asked him to take us to see the cliff divers before taking us to the Golden Zone. That trip cost about $25 for the both of us. We did a little shopping at Senor Frog's before retreating back to our ship. A taxi ride back to the port was $10.
Cabo San Lucas: This was my third time in Cabo. We took the Deluxe Cruise with NCL. This cruise sails out to the famous Arch of Cabo, then around the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean. They served complimentary drinks, chips and salsa during the entire trip. My advice is to head out early, grab a water taxi, and do the same exact tour I described above for a fraction of the price. But keep an eye on your clock, as we had to be back on the ship by 1:30 p.m.
Entertainment/Onboard Activities Nightly entertainment was so-so. I have definitely seen better. The Jean Ann Ryan Company Singers and Dancers can be missed for sure. The Fallons (Magician) is pretty good - try to watch the Close Up Magic in the Spinnaker Lounge later on in the cruise. The comedian, Dave Heenan, was so-so. He's entertaining enough, but not extremely funny. They also had a Broadway star, Jeri Sager -- she's one NOT to miss if you are a Broadway fan. I loved her - definitely the highlight of the entertainment.
Overall: I will probably never sail with NCL again. I also will not recommend it to anyone I know. If anything I have been telling people to steer clear of this cruise line.
While the ship itself is a beauty, the service of the workers there made the experience very unappealing. The fact that the line changed of the itinerary without any attempts to notify us, the lack of courtesy of staff on board, the generally poor quality of food, and the money-hungry ways of NCL makes me wander back to my favorite cruise line: Royal Caribbean.