Number of Cruises: 5
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Star
Sailing Date: February 17th, 2005
Itinerary: Mexican Riviera
We traveled to the Mexican Riviera on the Norwegian Star with our two children, ages 6 and 8. The NCL Mexican Riviera cruise appealed to us because of the Kid’s Crew program, the freestyle dining concept, and the itinerary. (Our prior experience was with Costa, Royal Caribbean, and Disney. )
The embarkation went smoothly, and we were on the ship by 2pm or so on the day of departure. The ship is just lovely, extremely well-maintained and well laid-out. We explored all the decks and even joined the crowds in the Marketplace Café for a bite of lunch. After that first meal, we never attempted to eat at the Marketplace again; in my opinion, the last thing I want to do on my vacation is stand in a cafeteria line. Why so many people do so is a mystery to me, although it is an extremely popular Café and you can see people eating there all day long.
We booked a mini-suite on deck 11, and it was a terrific set-up for a family of four. We especially enjoyed the balcony, which was a perfect spot for a before –dinner cocktail, or for the children to enjoy a room service dinner before taking off for Kid’s Crew , allowing mom and dad to have some adult time at one of the specialty restaurants.
They call it “freestyle cruising” ; which means that you don’t have set meal times, you can simply show up at one of the restaurants or cafes (there are 10 in all) and in most cases, you are seated at once. We dined with the kids in each of the two “main” dining rooms, Aqua and Versailles, and never had to wait for a table. Versailles was my favorite, because it is such a beautiful room, with enormous windows open to the sea. They also served breakfast and lunch in Versailles, and we always chose the dining room breakfast over the buffet line in the Market Café. The cooking light breakfast specials were, without exception, delicious. Don’t miss the apple-walnut pancakes.
The Soho Room, Le Bistro and Ginza were “extra charge” restaurants where my husband and dined without children. There was a per-person coverage charge for these venues, and they were consequently much smaller, quieter and featured much better food and service. One night there were only about a dozen patrons in Soho, and we had a terrific dinner (I had the prawns, he had the surf and turf, which included two lobster tails) topped off with bananas flambe. Though we had ordered only one dessert, our waiter noticed it had vanished rather quickly, and he showed up with a second dessert, which I’m ashamed to say, we also polished off in no time!
We also both enjoyed a couple of treatments at the spa, where I indulged in a body wrap and also a superb facial. The spa has a small indoor pool, and two “community” hot tubs, plus a steam room, and the staff couldn’t be nicer. We really enjoyed the facilities at the spa and would definitely recommend a visit here while on board.
If you’re looking into a trip on the Star, no doubt you’ve noticed the enormous water slides for the outdoor pool. The slides were a major enticement for us, because our children are big fans of the water parks at Disney World and we knew it would occupy them for hours if they could play on the slides. So much for the best-laid plans. The slides didn’t open the first day at sea (no explanation) but on our second day, a nice hot sunny day en route to our first stop in Acapulco, the slides opened up at 10:00am. Hooray! The kids were thrilled, and took at least half a dozen spins into the pool when – the CLOSED sign went up. A couple of workmen in overalls showed up and told my kids the slides would re-open in about 15 minutes. (We heard later that a child had been injured on the slides, so they had to close them down; I don’t know for sure what happened, and we never got an “official “explanation.) Fifteen minutes stretched into hours, and finally the slides were closed for the next two days, at least, and it became a major frustration for us and for many parents who were in the same position we were in , constantly having to steer the kids to some other activity, or to the much smaller kids’ pool at the other end of the deck. We would have appreciated some effort on behalf of the crew/staff to explain the problem, or better yet, correct the problem in hours, instead of days.
We didn’t make it to all of the evening shows, but among those we caught, the best was the Cirque Pacific, featuring some amazing Chinese acrobats. The children went to the Magic Show with the Kids’ Crew group, which they enjoyed, and we went as a family to the Mexican Folklore show. All the shows we attended were very enjoyable. The Stardust Theatre is very plush, and , like everywhere else on the ship, gorgeously decorated.
PORTS OF CALL
At the first stop, Acapulco, I booked the “Snorkeling 101” excursion. The excursion began with a boat tour to “Isla la Roqueta.” It was unnerving to say the least, to arrive at a small , dirty beach guarded by soldiers carrying machine guns. The cruisers were paraded across the beach past the not-so friendly natives, then given snorkel equipment and taken to the shore. Then things definitely improved, because the snorkeling, once we got about 20feet out, was quite enjoyable, and the guide was terrific. My children were novice snorkelers, but are good swimmers, and they had a wonderful time, and spent close to an hour in the water.
We didn’t go ashore at Zihuatenejo, but at the next port of call, Puerto Vallarta, we were happy to join the crowds on the Pirate Ship Marigalante. This was a fun day, which included an entertaining pirate show, complete with swordfight and plank-walking (and a plunge into the ocean!) and open bar. The pirate ship docked at a small private beach, and the kids played in the surf, rode boogie boards and were taken on a couple of banana boat rides. The “pirates” took on the passengers in a beach volleyball tournament. After we left the island we re-boarded the Marigalante , and , ravenously hungry, were served a lunch of barbecue chicken and ribs. This was the kids’ favorite excursion of all.
Finally, at Cabo San Lucas I booked us on the Lands’ End Boat and Beach Adventure. This excursion began with a 45-minute boat ride through some of the stunning rock formations of the Baja Peninsula. The boat ride was great; beautiful sunny weather, complimentary soft drinks, and best of all, we spotted two whales during the cruise. Then we were taken on a bus to the Hotel Hacienda, where we could use the beach, including beach chairs and umbrellas. Parasailing and ocean kayaking were available for an extra fee. My son and husband took out an ocean kayak, and stayed out just long enough so that we missed the bus ride back to the pier. No worries though, the walk back to the pier was about an hour long, through a marketplace loaded with shops and restaurants and lots of street vendors. It was odd to recognize a Dunkin Donuts, Dairy Queen and Chris Ruth’s steakhouse among the local restaurants. We walked through the Arts and Crafts market which was just across the street from the pier, and did some shopping there.
In sum, there is a lot to recommend about this cruise ship and itinerary. On the 8 day cruise, we had excellent weather on all but the first and last days, leaving and returning to Los Angeles, when the weather was cold and windy. Cabo San Lucas is absolutely beautiful, and if you’re taking school-age children, by all means consider the Pirate Ship excursion, you can’t go wrong, and mom and dad can enjoy the complimentary rum punch or margaritas served by real pirates! This was definitely a family vacation, but my husband and I were still able to have some time alone, once the kids realized they much preferred going to the Kid’s Crew programs rather than having to dress for dinner with mom and dad. All in all, I was pleased with the cruise and will seriously consider a “freestyle” cruise next time around.