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Thea Dalfino

Age: 28

Occupation:Physician

Number of Cruises: 5

Cruise Line: Norwegian

Ship: Norwegian Star

Sailing Date: December 3rd, 2005

Itinerary: Mexican Riviera

Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Star Cruise Review
Mexican Riviera

Thea Dalfino

Background
My husband and I are both physicians in our residency. I am 28 and he is 30. This was my 5th cruise and my husband’s 3rd.

PreCruise
We booked this vacation through travelocity, as they had a comparable rate to other online agents and also allowed us to pick our specific room. We found out 4 days before the cruise departed that the itinerary had changed and we were not going to Acapulco. I never received anything in the mail, and simply printed our tickets online. I would advise you to make sure you call and get luggage tags mailed to you, it will make embarkation a lot easier. We flew to LAX from Albany, NY the morning of the cruise. Norwegian cruise lines offers a bus from the airport to the pier for $25 per person. We took a taxi because it only costs $50-55 total and you can get up to 6 people in a taxi (some of them were vans). In addition, there was quite a wait for the bus. We were initially going to take the bus but it was taking so long that we simply hailed a taxi. On the way back to the airport at the end of the cruise, the taxi is only $45 from the pier to LAX.

Embarkation F
This was the most disorganized embarkation imaginable. We arrived at the pier at 12:30pm and there was a VERY long line. I overheard that they had trouble with the gangplank and it slowed debarkation. There were still people who had just got off the ship and were waiting for taxis. My husband got in line (which was outside the building and curled all the way around to where the buses stop) while I went to figure out how to get luggage tags and whether my paper tickets were alright. Yes, the paper tickets that you print online are sufficient to board with. The luggage, however, was a pain in the neck. They only had ONE person giving out luggage tags and it took her at least 5 minutes per person to get them the correct tag. It took me 1 hour in line to get the luggage tags and by the time I’d received them, my husband had almost made it to the entrance of the building. No one is allowed to bring large suitcases on the ship themselves, the porters have to take them. So we quickly tagged the luggage and gave it to a porter just in time. Once inside the building there is a metal detector then another long line before you get to the reception desk. It was the most inefficient process I have ever witnessed. Every other passenger we met agreed that they had never seen anything like it.

Many people were confused about whether they had the right tickets, where the porters were located (they were all around), what to do with their luggage, if they were in the right line, how to get a luggage tag, etc. It was a mess. They did not have enough personnel outside explaining where to go, and many people were very frustrated. I don’t know what we would have done if it rained or was too hot.

To make matters worse, NCL handed out a paper explaining that we were not going to Acapulco due to a problem with the thrusters and each person would be given $50 shipboard credit to anything except services, gratuities, or the casino. Many people were not previously aware of the itinerary change.

The Room A-
We stayed in a balcony room, #10158. The room was slightly larger than the other ships we have been on. The balcony was smaller than on the Grand Princess. It had 2 chairs and a small table. The weather was often too cold to sit out there while we were traveling, but the windows were large and brightened up the room. The décor was very nice- some wood, mirrors, and a nice piece of artwork. There was a small couch that also pulls out into a bed, a little table in front of it, and a desk. The room also had a refrigerator, coffee maker (makes 4 cups, with a flat bottom filter), Folgers pods, large shower, and separate toilet area. NCL provided shampoo, liquid soap, and shower caps. We brought our own filters and coffee, as my husband is very particular about coffee.
The major drawbacks to the room was that the shower had very little water pressure, the toilet smelled like sewage, and the room creaked. I often showered at the spa because it took forever to shower in the room. The first night in the room I was awaken by the creaking in the room. It sounded as if the furniture and ceiling were moving. Other people noticed it in their rooms as well. Thereafter I slept with the balcony door open and the sound of the waves muffled the noisiness of the room. I have never had that problem on any other ship before. The room was well insulated and we never heard our neighbors.

Dining/Food C
The ship’s signature feature is “Freestyle” dining. There were 2 main dining rooms (Aqua and Versailles) that served usual cruise food, with a different theme each night. We were told that the menus at Aqua and Versailles were the same, but in fact, there are subtle differences in the main courses. The ship had multiple specialty restaurants without an additional fee, including The Trattoria (Italian), Endless Summer (Mexican and tapas), and Blue Lagoon (grill that was open 24 hours a day and served hot dogs, hamburgers, and French fries). The other specialty restaurants all had varying fees- Le Bistro (French restaurant, $15 per person), Cagney’s Steakhouse ($20 per person), SoHo (Pacific Rim, $?), and Ginza (Japanese, $12.50, for sushi bar $10 per person). It is HIGHLY recommended that you make reservations early in the cruise for any of the restaurants, as we were unable to eat at The Trattoria because the only available time was 9pm!

The first night we ate at Le Bistro and my husband had the surf and turf (2 lobster tails and filet mignon) for $20. We shared an excellent chocolate fondue for dessert. The meal was superb! However, when we went back there on the 5th night, the lobsters were overcooked and the meal was less impressive. We also tried Ginza’s sushi. Rather than ordering at the sushi bar, we ordered a la carte. I would highly recommend this. The sushi bar only has rolls, not slices of fish sushi. It was much wiser to order a la carte because when it says “1 roll”, it actually means 6 pieces of sushi! It was a lot to each, for much less price.

Overall, the food was not as well prepared as on other cruise lines and although NCL offered a wide selection of food, it was not as high quality. The main dining halls ran out of food twice (they ran out of oysters and substituted it with conch, and ran out of cherries on a night when cherries jubilee was the signature dessert). Normally, I expect the food on a cruise to be superior to what I’d get in a regular restaurant, but NCL did not meet my expectations. In addition, service was often very slow in the main dining rooms and we missed our shows twice.

Pools B
There were 2 pools on the ship, one saltwater pool on deck 12 surrounded by 4 hot tubs and 2 slides. The other pool was freshwater and located in the Barong Spa (also on deck 12). I enjoyed the indoor pool because the water was warmer and it was in a beautiful setting. There was also a hot tub and small thallassotherapy pool there as well. They also have about 15 chairs set up in front of a large window that looks out the back of the ship. It is a very relaxing environment. I often showered at the spa because our showed had no water pressure. When you go down to the spa, they give you a locker, towels, and bathrobe.

We only went in the outdoor pool once, as the weather was generally in the high 70’s and overcast most days. We didn’t like the set up of the deck- the slides take up too much room and there were no lounge chairs near the pool, they were all up in the amphitheatre-like stands.

Activities/Shows B
During the days at sea there were few activities to do other than bingo, bridge, shuffleboard, etc. My husband went to a lecture on car insurance, and one on wills, which he enjoyed. It was too cold to swim in the outdoor pools so we usually just stayed inside and read. We tried to go to a swing dancing class, but there were far too many people there.

We did not see the comedian, but the magician was phenomenal (The Fallons), and the musicals were ok, nothing spectacular. They also had a game show every night with passengers as contestants. It was cute, but sometimes disorganized. There was a midnight buffet only one night and it was the chocoholic buffet. Get there 30 minutes ahead or else you’ll stand in a VERY long line. It was nice, but not exciting. Most of the entertainment ended at 11pm. The cruise seems to be geared toward older folks, as we rarely saw more than a handful of couples our age. Even 40 was young on this cruise. Most passengers were in there 70’s and 80’s and the activities were mostly tailored more to their generation.

Day 3- Manzanillo
This is a small industrial town where there is little shopping but nice beaches. We took a taxi out to La Boquita beach because we had read that there was nice snorkeling there. The woman at the pier said there was a flea market out in that area and that we could walk from the flea market to the beach. It cost $12 total for the cab ride and took ~25 minutes. The flea market was no more than 2 small buildings with multiple vendors selling silver jewelry, shells, and clothing. We walked about a mile on a relatively deserted beach to get out to the tip, where all the restaurants and umbrellas were. There is a small fishing co-op out there with numerous restaurants that sell seafood, coconuts, and mangos. We had tons of delicious nachos with salsa for only $2. Look at the prices, because some are more expensive than others. The weather was too cool and overcast so we didn’t go snorkeling. You could rent a small boat to take you out to the ship wreck for snorkeling ($15 per person for an hour), or go jet skiing. We just sat under an umbrella, ate the local food and relaxed. The taxi back cost $15 total. Most of the passengers on the ship did not like this stop because there’s not much to do and the shopping isn’t very good.

Day 4- Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta was our favorite stop because there was a lot to do and it was absolutely beautiful. The day was overcast and drizzled a bit but we made the best of it. We arrived at 7:30am and were tendered to the dock. You can see the Walmart and Sam’s club off to the left of the tender. My husband needed more coffee filters so we went to Walmart. They had an ATM there that only charges 7pesos (70 cents) to withdraw pesos. We met a couple who had spent the week in Puerto Vallarta and they showed us where to catch the bus. The bus stop was on the corner of the main road, adjacent to where Sam’s club is. Just take any one of the blue and white buses, or one that says “downtown” and names hotels on it. It cost only 20 cents (2 pesos) per person, as opposed to a cab which was more than $3 per person.

We got off the bus after about 15 minutes, in the Zona Romantica. We walked around ate some grilled food from locals on the beach and went parasailing ($25 per person). They take you right off the beach and the view is absolutely stunning. I would highly recommend it. We then had massages in a little outdoor cabana at one of the hotels. They had a promotional sign on the beach- $30 for a 75 minute massage. We couldn’t pass it up! I wish I could remember the name of the hotel. After that we walked back toward Downtown and looked in some of the jewelry shops. The bus back cost 40 cents per person. Overall, it was a nice stop. The only thing I didn’t like was the constant harassment from beach vendors, but that was the case on every beach.

Day 5- Mazatlan
Prior to this stop, I had no read much on what to do there. When waiting for a taxi, there is a large sign that posts all the fees for each location. It clearly says $6 per cab to go downtown, however, every cab driver charged $10. We bargained one cab down to $8 and took it for a short 5 minute ride to downtown. I recommend walking out of the walled in port area where there were many cabs waiting and I suspect they would be much less expensive. Downtown Mazatlan was very dirty and busy. I would not recommend going there unless you want to see how the locals live. We ate lunch at a very small restaurant that sold tacos. There were only 3 small tables in the place and a mother and daughter did all the cooking. We had the best tacos ever, and thankfully, didn’t get sick.

We walked about ¼ mile from downtown, over a hill, to the beach. We were on the Southernmost end of the Playa Norte. There was a nice concrete walkway along the roadside and we walked about ¼ of the way down the beach and went swimming. The entire beach looked like it was about a mile long, and it was almost completely deserted. We were the only people swimming. It was such a beautiful beach and we couldn’t understand why no one was there. After resting a while, we walked the entire length of the beach all the way to the Golden Zone (if you see the beach, you’ll realize it’s quite a hike!). There, the beach was full of people, kayaks, parasailing, vendors, restaurants, and hotels. It seems like the cabs drop everyone off out there and no one goes to the other beach. The beaches were equally as nice, but we preferred our deserted beach. It only cost $8 total back to the ship from the Golden Zone, which is much further than downtown.

Day 6- Cabo San Lucas
This was another beautiful stop. We arrived at 8am and had to depart at 1:30pm, which left very little time. By the time we tendered to shore it was 9am. We took at glass bottom boat out to lover’s beach (near the rock formation) for $10 per person roundtrip. The driver showed us the fish and sea lions on the way out there. The beach was amazing. The water was crystal clear and we snorkeled and saw tons of fish and stingrays. My husband spent the entire time in the water and then sadly, we had to leave. On the main beach there were some hotels, restaurants, parasailing, jet skiing, etc. It was a beautiful place and if we’re ever in the area we’d gladly go back again.

Disembarkation A+
Our flight was at 11am so we went to the reception desk in the morning on the 7th day and they gave us blue stickers for our cards and we were one of the 150 people who can walk off the ship. The ship docked at around 7am and we were told to meet at the Spinnaker lounge at 8am, where we would go through customs and carry our luggage off the ship. We got there at 7:20am, and there was already a line of people. At 8am they let people go through customs and we were off the ship by 8:30am. We made it to the airport at 9am. The taxi to the airport was only $45 flat fee total.

Overall Impression C
There are many reasons why we will likely not cruise NCL anytime again in the near future: few young couples, last-minute change in itinerary, food quality, poorly designed pool and upper decks, and lack of interesting activities, to name a few. With all the other cruising options out there, it will be a long time before we take NCL again.

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