This was cruise #6 for my wife & me. We have previously sailed in the Caribbean on Premier-Oceanic (now defunct, was the official cruise line of Disney when we sailed on it back in 1989), Royal Caribbean-Sovereign of the Seas, Celebrity-Century, and Windjammer-Polynesia. We also sailed on Princess-Dawn in Alaska.
We were in room 10730, an outside stateroom with a balcony on deck 10. The room was above average; the shower and fixtures are very nice. However, the patio sliding doors are a major pain. When you go outside on patio, you can slide door shut, but not lock it. As the ship tilts from right to left and back, the door slams open and shut. If left open, all the air conditioning escapes from room. We complained twice without any response. Our neighbor's patio doors slamming back and forth woke us up several mornings. Eventually, we figured a way to jam the tail end of my scuba fin in door and prevent it from sliding. This problem is probably more acute in the front and rear of ship than the sides.
Cruising down to Fanning, the sea was rough. I heardit should be calmer in the summer. How rough? Well they had to drain the small pool in Spa area because the water was splashing out and hitting ceiling. The rocking was from the front to the rear, not side to side. Neither of us has ever been seasick and it did not bother us in the least. I find it soothing to sleep with the ship rocking.
I like the concept of Freestyle dining as an option. They advertise eat when you want, where you want. That is not reality. This was a Christmas cruise and it was jam packed; 1800 adults & 600 kids. Dinners on Christmas Eve and day were nightmares in main dining rooms. People were stacked in stairways complaining. I know some waited over 2 hours. Of course, they were some parties of 20 to 25 people and this backed things up. My wife & I learned it was best to eat late. We would typically eat appetizers in Las Ramblas on Deck 13 (very good), go to early show, lounge around at then eat dinner at 9:30PM. At that time the crowds had thinned. Also, when booking reservations at alternative restaurants (we dined at La Trattoria and Endless summer), the only times available were late around 9:30PM. So, if you are flexible on when you eat, it is not that bad. We found the food to be good, not exceptional and not on same level as some of the other cruise ships we have sailed. We never dined in the pay restaurants. Not once, did I think the service was exceptional. Occasionally it was good, but mostly it was slow. In traditional cruising, you have a wait staff that knows you and the little things, like learning you want ice tea and bringing it before you ask. With Freestyle, you never get to know your wait staff and never receive this personalized service.
The Star tenders at Kona, Fanning, and Lahaina in Maui. You will dock at Nawillwilli in Kauai and in Honolulu. If you book an early shore excursion through NCL, you will leave ship on first tenders and do not need to get a tender ticket. Your shore excursion ticket will list that its serves as a tender ticket. They glance to ensure you have these tickets before letting you off ship.
On the 12-23-01 sailing, no passengers were allowed to go ashore at Fanning Island. It was for "our safety". It was a rough when we arrived but by 9:00AM it had calmed down. At 9:15AM, they announced the decision not to go ashore. I think it was because they knew from the week before they would not be able to get everyone off and then back on in time. So, they played the safety trump card. You don't have to refund any money if you make a decision based on safety. We did complain to Front Desk manager and asked for same consideration as 12-16 sailing, $200 per cabin credit. We were denied. However, they did grant us $150 credit for another problem we discussed.
My wife & I are fairly active. We went kayaking and snorkeling in Kona, booked a Luau on our own in Maui, went scuba diving in Kauai, and took some pictures from ship of Fanning :.). In Honolulu we stayed an extra couple of days and went snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, Hike up Diamond Head, drove up and saw waves at North Shore, and visited Pearl Harbor. Kauai was by our favorite Island, less crowded and more lush and tropical.
Disembarkation was typically of all cruise lines despite NCL's promises of a relaxing day. Luggage was to be set out by Midnight. They said we had to settle account from 5:30 AM to 7:30AM, which is way too early. Reality was they did not even delivery finalized bill to room till after 7:30AM. It was correct, so we did not have to go down to front desk.
What about the positives? The shows were the best of any cruise ship we have sailed. The seating at show is great; stadium style seating with no bad views. They have a lecturer on board discussing Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures through which I learned a lot. Of course, the ship is gorgeous. The spa area is great; they have a wet steam room, dry sauna, two different hot tubs, and a small pool. These are free to use even if you do not book spa services. Also, they do not allow children in spa areas, so it is a good place to escape and leave the crowds behind.
Overall, I would not recommend this cruise as a good way to see the Hawaiian Islands. If you like days at sea, and don't care to see Fanning Island, and don't mind slow dining service and waiting in lines to eat, then book this cruise. Otherwise, I would suggest visiting Hawaii without cruising until they repel the Jones Act.
This is an Addendum to the comment form from the Norwegian Star Panama Canal Cruise
To Whom It May Concern:
I expect that several of the passengers on this cruise have already made their comments, complaints and concerns known to you. I tried to keep a positive attitude throughout this voyage but the difficulty was that it seemed every new passenger I met soon turned the conversation to the deficiencies in the ship rather than the virtues. The overriding problem, as I experienced it, was not with the items that were not up to NCL standards as might have been expected on a maiden voyage, but with the fact that those in charge were not even acknowledging or attempting to address the problems that existed. The general attitude seemed to be that this ship was going from Miami to Honolulu and the people booked on it were rather secondary.
The first sign of trouble was the delayed departure which was blamed on late arriving passengers, when it was obvious that delivery trucks were lined up unloading cargo onto the ship. People didn't like being misinformed from the very beginning, and were suspicious from thenon. "They should have been loading the ship instead of shuttling travel agents," was a commonly voiced criticism.
The freestyle concept was so foreign to this group of mostly seasoned travelers, that they never got over being turned away from the main dining room the first few nights. The solution that was immediately obvious to almost every passenger after the first night, was on the second night to open all the restaurants without additional charge, and offer an open bar happy hour for the evening. Word of mouth from the "cover charge" restaurant patrons, along with a thorough explanation from the ships management and the mellowing effect of free drinks would have gone a long way towards decreasing the surliness of the passengers. Unfortunately any chance of discussing this with the restaurant manager, Beatrice Moine was out of the question, as nothing but her name was available for comments after the cruise was over. During the cruise, I couldn't find a "contact us" button anywhere on your web site.
The re-boarding of the ship in Aruba was a disaster. Having one of the ships officers inquire about the well being of the passengers in line after over an hour in the heat, and then blame the situation on the Taliban, didn't go over very well. Lack of preparation created the problem. by the time I re-boarded security was non-existent. Those doing the processing then seemed like they would rather die than irritate the passengers any further. I walked through the metal detectors carrying a six-pack of canned colas, beeping all the way, and nobody cared.
My concern for NCL extends only as far as the concern NCL appeared to have about their customers on this particular voyage, but I do have some concern for the staff of the ship. The probability of the disenchanted passengers punishing them through the withholding of the automatically deducted tips was high. For the most part, the staff was publicly pleasant right to the end. Privately, I think they felt like management had cut them loose to fend for themselves. Talk of jumping ship in Honolulu was widespread. Here again, with a ship full of seasoned travelers, it probably wasn't a good time to initiate an unfamiliar tip policy.
I am assuming that by now the ships sound system has been balanced. The music was particularly loud in the Market Place and at the pool. People were actually leaving the pool area in mid-afternoon because of the "rock concert" atmosphere. Complaint calls from the library to the front desk required name and cabin number so a report could be filed.
We presume that the three NCL cruises we had taken prior to this one were before the "Latitudes" program was initiated. It was disappointing to find out that a third of the other passengers had gotten a substantial "previous passenger" shipboard credit, while we got none. I would expect that your future cruise bookings during this trip were probably not very great. However, we did say several times during the trip that we would like to try the Star again in November in Hawaii to see how much everyone had learned since we plan to be over there anyway.
Even with the deficiencies, our cruise was still enjoyable. . I am sure things would have gone smoother if it was the twentieth time for this two-week trip, or even if it was the first of a series; then everyone would have been more inclined to learn from it rather than just get it over with. I hope that the problems mentioned above have been completely fixed by this time, and if not, that my comments will be helpful in doing so.
The following letter was sent to NCL ... I might add I did not include any comments about the cold food at the Market Cafe breakfast buffet. They were serving cold hashbrowns, scrambled eggs that were more like soup, and cartons of sour milk. If they were to be inspected by the USA health department the buffet lines would have been shut down in my and others opinion.December 8, 2001 Norwegian Cruise Line 7665 Corporate Center Drive Miami, Florida 33126 Attention: Public Relations Re: Norwegian Star Inaugural Voyage Miami to Los Angles . November 19 - December 3, 2001
Let me start my trip review by saying that overall this is a very beautiful ship and we went on the trip knowing this was an Inaugural Voyage, or first time with paying passengers. The ship was full; the Captain stated we had 2240 passengers when he notified the passengers we would be late leaving the Miami port. We were scheduled to leave port at 4:00 PM and finally got underway at midnight. Many people said this set the tone of the trip, I don't quite agree with that opinion, but theydid have a point.
It would appear, that loading of provisions took 8 hours more than scheduled. Not sure if NCL's concentration was more to provide the hundreds of Travel Agents tours / overnighters and trip provisions took a back seat to that PR event or what. But it should not have happen, at least not 8 hours late. For the many first time cruisers wanting pictures of leaving the port of Miami it was a great disappointment.
Our cabin was quite nice, decor very pleasing. We were on deck 9, cabin # 9572, Group BB. Some what forward of mid ship, portside. The cabin layout was comfortable and adequate even for a 14-day cruise. I had read many reviews that mentioned lack of clothes hangers, laundry line, shelf space, etc. We found that those concerns were no longer valid for our cabin. We had brought along clothes hangers, laundry line, and etc. but they were not needed. The cabin is 171 sq. feet, excluding the small balcony. They advertised coffee pots in the cabins, but this is not really true. Our cabin had a pot which you could heat water in for tea or instant coffee or whatever. Only problem was that the power cord was too short to reach the electrical outlet in back of the TV. If it is placed on the shelf above the TV the power cord just reaches the outlet. But this is not really a very safe place to use it; a person could easily spill the scalding water on himself or herself. I was rather surprised that they had not removed the Pots from the cabins until they had extensions cords made up or at least notified the passengers of the design deficiency. But sorry to say that was not done. Maybe they were over whelmed by passenger concerns by this time, but safety concerns should be in the forefront of any business.
Another cabin problem, at least with many cabins on deck 9 was the cabin noise ... ceiling / wall panels creaking and rubbing together. Now it came across the Atlantic Ocean so you think they had somewhat a handle on this type of condition. Even in light seas it was hard to sleep and when we had a little sea swell you could really hear the noise. Others stated they had chirping birds in their cabin. What was rather insulting was when they sent a Security person to investigate the complaint. Now really, it was more than obvious this was not his field of knowledge. I finally put paper wedges in the ceiling panels / lavatory wall panel where most of the noise was coming from and was able to bring the noise level down to were it was tolerable.
Our cabin steward and helper were very good. He was an old hand at his job and did it very well. By the end of the cruise he had his helper well trained and were working as a team.
The pool area, Deck 12, is very nice and well laid out. Lots of sunning areas, which was laid out in layers overlooking the pool area. I used it almost daily that is until the afternoon music started. It was so loud that you had to move well away from the pool area to not be overwhelmed by it. This was a problem that lasted through out the trip. Many, many people would not use the area because of the assault to one's hearing. The music content was quite good, but just to darn loud. For some reason, they could not get the music level to a reasonable level. Maybe the market they think they are targeting will enjoy it. Not so with many of the people I talked to on the ship. And I did talk to many people; I really wanted to be sure it wasn't just me. I would suggest that they provide earplugs for those that loudness offends. They did not have any on the ship when I inquired. The ear plugs could even be similar to those we used at work when running up a jet engine. And yes my hearing is poor.
The evening dinning experience, which one looks forward to, was more a dreaded event than an enjoyment More on why will come a little later in my review.
The main restaurant, Versailles, is really beautifully done. The Versailles, with out a question is the show case restaurant on the ship. The decor is very pleasing with out being too gaudy. Service was broken, which was understanding with so many new people trying to do their best and really unprepared to serve so many Americans / English / Canadians passengers. One problem that was constant through the trip was the time lag between finishing your entree to ordering your dessert / coffee. It was at least 30 minutes or more. Needless to say the waiters were in such a rush the service was very broken. I would think after a number of months of working together these areas should show a great improvement. The food, taste and presentation, was not what you would write home to mother about. Really needs some professional attention.
I tried most of the restaurants, missed the SoHo, Las Ramblas and Endless Summer. We had tried to get into the Endless Summer the 3rd or 4th night out but were told it would be at least ½ hour or more. This was rather concerning when there was only about 50 people being served. This is a very large restaurant. We were then told that they could only handle 50 people at one time! Too bad they did not have the consideration to say that upfront. Made for very poor customer relations.
Le Bistro was good, the Dinning Room Hostess, little Romanian lady by the name of Reka Varada, really made the place sparkle with her ready smile, helpful, positive attitude. That really could not be said for the Maître. I think our best meal was here. The Ginza was fairly good. I had Sukiyaki, which was cooked at your table in the Japanese style. Very enjoyable. They even had Kirn beer, even though it was not brewed in Japan.
One last truly negative comment, which was the talk of the ship, "Free-Style Dinning" is so much hype. In theory it sounds great and even works if you want to eat after 9 - 9:30 PM. It was obvious this group of passengers were not that type that liked to eat that late. It was so bad one night at the showpiece Verailles restaurant, they had a 1 -2 hour wait. Not much fun standing for a couple of hours with about 75 - 100 people waiting to eat dinner.
One evening, the line was so bad, and they were going to let some other passengers in front of the line, a shouting match occurred. The only thing that saved the day was the professional, dynamic personality, smiling face of the Dinning Room Hostess, Florentna Popa. A young Romanian lady, that handle the stress (nightly), angry and frustrated passengers for 14 days with a wonderful pleasing attitude and always with a smile. The type of person everyone would like on his or her team.
I could go on and on, but this is not a review of why not to go on NCL, but to beware this ship has a huge learning curve to go through before you get the reasonable serve a cruise person is accustom to.
I would suggest anyone interested in a evenly written ship board review that they go to http://www.cruise-forums.com/read.php?f=16&i=1363&t=1363 and read Ernie's review, dated 11/19/2001.