Number of Cruises: 12
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Star
Sailing Date: April 22nd, 2005
This was my 12th cruise, 4th with NCL. This was a vacation for three odd couples: my wife and I are in our early fifties, the second couple are in their late forties (first time cruisers) and the third couple (seasoned cruisers) are in their early thirties. Even though I am not a professional writer, I will I rate each category with my own arbitrary, yet uncreative rating system of 1 to 5: 5 being Outstanding, 4 excellent, 3 satisfactory, 2 marginal, and 1 unsatisfactory. Remember, everyone’s cruising experience differs, so I try to stick to the facts (unlike government) and let you draw your own conclusions.
Embarkation: Solid 4 stars
NCL has online registration that includes e-tickets. If you’ve used a computer in the last 5 years, you can use e-tickets. You just print out the materials and have them checked at the dock outside the main building. You go through one line at the dock area to hand in your pre-registration, then you move inside a building for actual key card registration, photo etc. The lines inside the building where short and fast moving, and the building was air conditioned and bathrooms are readily available. You could say it was an improvement from the standard cattle corral that we’re all familiar with at check-in. There is also a latitudes line for key card registration to facilitate repeat NCL guests –moved fast and was a nice perk. My only negative was the total “CONFUSION” surrounding luggage tags. You are expected to turn in your luggage to a porter once you arrive at the NCL dock area. However, there are NO signs, no general area marked and everybody seems to point to a different direction. I finally found the desk (that was not manned at the time – 10:00 am) and then you need to find your room number to get the correct tags, put them on your bags right then and there and then hand them to a porter – big hassle! Bottom line, NCL could easily solve the luggage tag problem, and when you’re going to Mexico for the next week, this definitely won’t ruin your vacation.
Cabins: 4 stars
Very nice. We had three different cabin categories assigned: Inside, Outside, and Balcony. Each cabin category appears slightly larger in size. I viewed all three cabins and was impressed. The outside cabin has a nice size picture window and the bathroom is nicely laid out. The shower had a door instead of a curtain, which was nice. Each room is equipped with a small fridge. The closet storage space was adequate and had a room safe. The only real complaint was that you could hear talking, noise and sounds from cabins next door and cabins above. On two separate occasions the banging/vacuuming above my cabin was so loud that I could hardly sleep all night, perhaps better soundproofing could have helped but it is a little late. The TV had two separate commercial channels, plus the on board channel and two movie selections, although I was rarely in my room to watch. Needless to say, I didn’t pay a couple thousand bucks to watch 5 TV channels – I got better things to do. Our cabin steward was fine, doing the basic good cleaning and a few smiles in the hallways.
Dining/Food: 3 stars.
Freestyle: This “Freestyle” cruising seems to be the motto with NCL, choose from a variety of restaurants in addition to the normal dining rooms; However, what you need to know is that all this “Freestyle” comes with a PRICE TAG. Besides the two main dining rooms (which have almost the identical menus, just different styles of rooms) you have a choice of an Italian – La Trattoria (this is essentially the buffet area with tablecloths and chair covers sectioned off) and a Tex-Mexican style (which I did not try). You can eat free at the restaurants I just mentioned at designated times, but for a COST you can eat at four wonderful specialty restaurants that charge a minimum of $20 per person and some additional depending on what you order. So even though “Freestyle” means eating at your leisure, this comes with a price tag. There is a free restaurant/snack area that is open 24hrs – “Blue Lagoon” (which you have to order from a waiter and menu and then wait for your food) – great hot wings and fish & chips at this place! In addition, there is the free BUFFET which I had read a great deal about and how passengers where disappointed and tended to avoid it. I found that not to be the case, the buffet was excellent with a great deal of variety in the stations. Each day a different vegetarian buffet was also offered at one station and most days they also had a BBQ cookout on the pool deck in addition to the grill selections. Formal clothing is optional on most evenings, but on formal nights, I would say about 75% of the passengers were dressed up – not to the tux level, but nice cocktail attire. In every restaurant I visited I found passengers waiting for a table. Overall food in the main dining rooms was good. Some nights better than other, but biggest disappointment was the “FISH” dishes, which tended to be dry and oily, yet the meat dishes were excellent. To insure that my party of 6 always was seated together for dinner, time arrangements were made with the maitre d’. We were given a table and were asked to arrive at a certain time every night. The entire staff was accommodating and friendly. Our waitress “Marlyn” during the first few nights was so efficient, head and shoulders above others than served us, so we demanded her for our table every night (they rotate the servers in the main dining rooms, so it is not like other ships with the same staff every night)! Note: if you enjoy wine with dinner, be prepared for sticker shock as the wine prices are high. They offered a buy five get one free – not exactly an amazing deal by anyone’s standards – providing you saved your receipts and had the wine charged to one room. So in larger groups, put all your wine on one room charge and settle up later.
Public Rooms: 3 1/2 stars here.
Simply beautiful. The ship was nicely decorated and was in tip top condition. There was plenty of space to move around and the ease with which you could move around will give you the general feeling of not being crowded next to 1000+ people on one boat. The ship was designed with making the 6th and 7th decks as the main hub of activity, i.e. shops (located in the aft area), casino, lounges, photo – main traffic area. This centralized design is well thought out and everybody seemed to be having a good time. The eating snack area “Blue Lagoon,” located on deck 7, is in a bad location. The walkway has herds of people walking everywhere, and to make matters worse the snack area is divided, and the seating is extremely tight. Also, be wary of slick floors. I was very disappointed in the duty free shop on board as the prices were high in comparison to other duty free establishments, and you could get better deals on shore. Restrooms were easily marked as was each deck sign. Elevators were plentiful and were always operational. Note – internet service prices are VERY high on the ship. The Barong SPA was little used, since most believed there was a charge for use of the very nice lap pool, sauna, steam room, and tubs. Staff where very cordial and since no one under 18 is allowed, it was a haven from the kids.
Entertainment: 2 1/2 stars with room for improvement
In the evening, you will find a very good piano player at the Cagney’s Lounge and a good guitar player at the Red Lion pub. The Carousel lounge will feature easy listening music till about 10:00pm when the popular adult Karaoke begins. At 11:30pm the Disco will start in the Carousel, but it is a VERY poor place for a disco – small dance floor and bad location. The lighting and sound are just not great – as was shown in the amount of people that actually stayed for the disco. The Spinnaker lounge featured a live band on theme party nights (the DJ would have been better for theme night parties and the theme nights need a fresh look). This same band that played at the Spinnaker also played at the pool deck. Mind you, I thought the band was pretty good, but listening to them every day and night got old fast. The nighttime shows at the Stardust lounge were a major disappointment. The Stardust lounge is VERY well designed and seating is very comfortable (no annoying poles) but the shows in general were 2 stars at the most. I enjoyed the Magician and the “Elton John” Piano player, but the three musical reviews were not to my taste. The Chinese acrobats where a good addition Cirque but too far and few in between POOR dance routines. Overall, the entertainment is a very weak area.
Excursions/Ports: No rating- read my comments
The Star stops at four wonderful ports; Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas. The problem rests with the length of the stops in each port. In Acapulco, your first stop, you arrive at 11:00 am and depart at midnight, which is excessively long in my opinion. Your second stop is in Zihuatanejo, a wonderful small Mexican fishing town that was clean and lovely but you had to tender to get off the ship, you tender starting @7:30 am and leaving by 1:30PM(last tender), which is WAY too short and not enough time to do anything as most shops open at about 9-10am. In PV you also tender and the ship will only allow the ship excursions to disembark first so, once again you are short on time. As for excursions, I usually opt to do my do my own excursions, and save money. However, be warned that my method of excursions tend to be on the adventurous side and not are not for everyone. On this cruise I experienced three wonderful and unique excursions that I would recommend anyone who desires a bit of adventure. In Acapulco, it was watching the cliff divers for $3.00 + a free drink and then on to Pie de la Cuesta – a wonderful beach by a lagoon, with a restaurant, horseback riding, massages, etc.. all in a peaceful beautiful beach away from the hustle and bustle. In Puerto Vallarta it was Zip line with Los Veranos Canopy Tours – my second time on this tour. In Cabo San Lucas, it was ATV and rapelling with BajaWild Adventures. All three excursions that I did on my own are with companies that I located on the web after reading comments from former passengers.
Activities: 3 1/2 stars
A variety of daytime activities are offered throughout the cruise. From the usual trivia (offered twice a day) to the Very Expensive Bingo (Bingo on this cruise is more like a poor investment choice rather than a lighthearted numbers matching game – games start at $29 and get into the $100s to enter some games – you can have more fun at the casino for that much!). The popular not-so-newlywed game, liars club, martini tasting (best deal for $5), tequila seminars (Limited sampling), etc were all present and all good fun. The Pub Crawl was a BLAST, but too bad it was only one night. The Casino was the norm, I liked the space and the ease with which you could move around and not feel crowded in. My lower rating was based on the LACK of activities during the final day at sea and the lack of consistency in each day’s events. You would have a day filled with activities all bunched together, and then you would have a lot of dead times where you had no other choice but to hear about the art auctions over the loudspeaker.
Despite these few negatives, this is a wonderful ship and a cruise itinerary not to be missed. I would not hesitate to recommend this ship to anybody. The entire staff from busboy to the officers seemed very friendly-everybody had a smile for you and was willing to help. Tipping at the end of the cruise is eliminated as each passenger is assessed a charge to their rooms bills. All the cruise message board talk about lack of service since tips are automatically charged to your room is just not true! I would also like to mention disembarkation, which has always been a major hassle on lines. It was a pleasant end to a nice cruise. NCL has developed a system where you leave when you want to depending on your connecting accommodations. You ask for a specific tag color based on your connections, then you wait in your staterooms until your colored tags are called. It was the smoothest disembarkation ever. However, everybody needs to be off the ship by 10:30 (Breakfast buffet is open till 9:00AM). Thank you NCL for this wonderful procedure. I found this to be a major improvement and a change for the better. NCL seems to be developing a niche and is promoting its Latitudes loyalty program which has some benefits (lower cost on a cruise, drink specials, a nice party, and a few giveaways) of other lines frequent cruiser programs. I think NCL is doing it right. BRAVO! But PLEASE lower your drink prices.