Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Star
Sailing Date: May 8th, 2005
Itinerary: Pacific Coastal Repositioning
Some of our friends thought we were insane, taking two children under 3 on a 7-day cruise from LA to Vancouver on the Norwegian Star, but we were hopeful. Last year we had an enjoyable cruise with one 18 month old on Royal Caribbean's Vision of the Seas to the Mexican Riviera and we believed that the addition of our new 8 month old into the mix would not prove much more challenging, especially with my parents-in-law along to assist. For reasons outlined below, while we didn't have to be insane to survive the voyage, we did need to have a sense of humor to enjoy our vacation.
Embarkation went relatively smoothly. We were allowed to begin lining up and entering the waiting area in San Pedro at 10:00 am. My in-laws were issued numbers for check-in which reflected their Latitudes membership, which is strange because they have never cruised with NCL before. While checking in, we found that my 2 year old daughter's name appeared twice: once in each of our two cabins, and that my infant daughter's name had disappeared off our preregistration. Easily corrected? Not exactly. While we went ashore at Catalina Island, the first port of call, we were told that my 2 year old and my 70 year old father-in-law's pictures were mixed up. I went to reception to clear that problem up, and subsequently had to return when the ID cards no longer opened the right rooms: yup, reversed again. Three strikes, you're out, guys.
I was impressed by the professional escort to our cabins, and forgave the registration mixups. We later discovered that our two child car seats did not make it to our rooms. Eventually, they were located, but when we finally saw them again at the end of the voyage, the rugs used to adjust the heights of the seats were missing.
Cabins: We stayed in adjoining balcony cabins 10156 and 10158. While the colour scheme was like a billiards hall (billiards green bedcover and dark red curtains), the woodwork was nice and modern, and the bathroom was superior to those on other cruise lines we had previously sailed with. Yes, the cabins were very small once the sofa bed was opened up, but the balcony made it seem less enclosed. Early on, we asked that the loudspeaker which blared announcements at an ear shattering volume be disabled for both cabins. We were glad for our decision, as the loudspeaker in the hallway could still be clearly heard outside our cabin many times while we were napping or sleeping.
Restaurants: Having read previous reviews voraciously, I decided to reserve at all the specialty restaurants immediately upon boarding the ship. Our first dinner was spent in the Teppanyaki Room of Ginza. Our chef was a congenial Filipino who made passable Teppanyaki, but was less than polished in his utensil acrobatics: He kept dropping the salt and pepper shakers when he was spinning them, as well as some other cutlery. I actually felt sorry for him, since he said he was nervous performing for us. The next night's dinner was a walk-in experience at Ginza. I ordered dishes as suggested by our server, but these were marginal at best. I was very surprised since I had read other glowing reviews on this site of these restaurants. Perhaps we had higher expectations since we live in a city with a high level of Asian cuisine (Vancouver), so the cooking which might seem great and unique to other was indeed barely passable to us. I wanted to try the all-you-can-eat sushi bar, but I could see why it was deserted but for a single couple the night we attended Ginza: all of the sushi dishes were maki (i.e. rolls) and not the more expensive sushi (sashimi and nigiri). We elected to try the regular menu at Ginza, which resulted in our disappointing dining experience. Unfortunately, because of our first two nights, we began thinking of cancelling our other restaurant reservations (Soho, Le Bistro, etc.). This decision was eventually made for us, as discussed in the next section...
I tried Versailles for two dinners: the gala night and the farewell dinner. I actually thought that the food was quite good on those nights, in contrast to the opinion of some other critics. The appetizer of Tuna Tartare was particularly excellent, since it was served with the contrasting wakame (Japanese seaweed salad). What was shocking was that I found the food at Versailles on those two occasions to be much better than the "extra charge" restaurants. The Market Cafe (buffet style) left much to be desired. Unfortunately, my father-in-law, a very shy man, insisted on eating there at every opportunity, so I joined the hordes in jockeying for a position to get my portion of slop. On a good note, I enjoyed the fresh fruit at the Cafe. Where did they get all of that consistently sweet and fresh cantaloupe and honeydew melon? When I could convince my father-in-law, we did eat many breakfasts at Versailles. I also enjoyed the smoked salmon and capers as well as the pickled herring for breakfasts. I would much rather take quality over quantity any day, and I preferred to be served the same smoked salmon in style rather than line up to serve myself the same smoked salmon at the Market Cafe. Of the no-charge restaurants, I would highly recommend La Trattoria (prosciutto and the salmon cream linguine). Endless Summer was just "okay", but maybe I did not choose the right dishes to really showcase the food (I chose chicken quesadillas, jalapano poppers, and the Mexican cheesecake). The salsa chips looked suspiciously like packaged tortilla chips you can buy at the supermarket, complete with 30% of them being broken.
Medical Clinic: On the third night of our trip, we went to La Trattoria. There, my 2 year old proceeded to vomit over her new dress and the covered chairs of the restaurant. It was the beginnings of a lovely odyssey of illness which touched all members of my family. My infant daughter had already vomited that same morning, but I thought that it and her diarrhea were manageable since the vomiting was isolated to one incident. By the end of the voyage my husband had vomited 18 times and had nearly the same number of diarrheic episodes, and my daughter lagged behind him, but, unfortunately, could not control where and when she vomited, so we had to regularly contact our cabin attendants to change the sheets and pillow cases on the beds. We self-quarantined ourselves for the duration of the voyage. We do have some complaints about one medical clinic staff member who asked us to come down to the clinic so that she could track our illnesses, then proceeded to charge us $50 for our infant daughter since she was no longer showing active signs of gastroenteritis. Apparently, assessment is supposedly free for such disorders since the ships have an interest in tracking and containing such illnesses. Because she did not have a fever by the time we saw the ship's doctor, we were charged $50, despite her ongoing diarrhea (doesn't that mean she is still sick)? When the second nurse came on duty, she explained that charging us $50 was indeed an error, and would be reversed. Later, the first nurse came back on duty, with a harsh wake-up call at 8:00 am in our cabin to ask us whether my husband meant midnight or noon when he wrote 12:00 pm in his self-report log of illness. The two docs on duty gave us conflicting advice, which we will not fault them for, but we felt like following the advice of the more liberal doc who thought we should be free to travel throughout the ship so long as we were careful since the illness can only be transmitted through an oral or fecal route. We ended up canceling all further reservations at the other restaurants for my husband and daughter. We did wonder whether we contracted the illness from the previous occupants of our cabin since we heard that there were outbreaks of illnesses similar to ours in the two weeks preceding our visit. If what the medical staff tells us is true, we were successful in not transmitting the illness to our fellow travelers for the duration of our cruise.
Entertainment: The Jean Ryan Company lived up to previous posters' accolades. Yes, they were the best cruise production company I had ever seen in my long history of er, three cruises. However, some of the company still sang off-key, although they did have great stage presence, and the dancing seemed to be top notch. The self-promotional magician Farquhar was only doing card tricks during the times I was able to see him, and I did not have the opportunity to see further shows since we were confined to our cabin for much of the cruise.
Debarkation: Canada Place was packed with cruise folk since three ships had arrived simultaneously that very same morning: the Norwegian Sun, the Ryndam, and our ship. Not the fault of NCL, but a terrible timing problem which led to unbelievable crowds and lines for taxis stretching far past their normal boundaries. On the part of NCL, we loved the smooth debarkation process: relaxing in our own cabin (as if we hadn't spent enough time there already, heh heh) while waiting for our tag color to be called.
Ports of Call: The only novel port to us Westcoast folk was Catalina Island. Due to familiarity with the ports, and our illness, we only went ashore for two of the four stops. Our Catalina Island Eco Discovery Tour was just terrible, though not entirely due to the tour operator. We were fogged in, and saw absolutely no wildlife at all. Not much of a reward for enduring nearly two hours in a bumpy bus.
Children's Program: We only spent a short period of time attending these programs, and only in the presence of one parent at minimum. I was not impressed with the organized activity of coloring (too boring for my 2 year old), but the facilities were excellent, with a ball room and a padded play area. I think the staff were also excellent, from the brief visits.
Summary: Our voyage was tainted by our illness, but I would recommend NCL for those who do not mind extra charges (the only free drinks were watered down iced tea, milk, coffee, tea, and water) and the so-so food. I rate NCL as the best for overall availability of food, but I rate it as middle of the road for quality. Definitely a passable cruise experience, but not one of the best in our books.