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Ted Freeman

Age: 40

Occupation:Airline Operations Controller

Number of Cruises: 5

Cruise Line: Norwegian

Ship: Norwegian Star

Sailing Date: September 19th, 2004

Itinerary: Repositioning Vancouver-Los Angeles

Don’t you hate it when you’ve been really looking forward to something, and then you get let down – badly? Well, sad to say, this is exactly what happened on our cruise on the Norwegian Star. We’d previously cruised on the Norwegian Spirit, in her old incarnation as the SuperStar Leo, and had had a great time. Having said this, that particular cruise was only about half-full, so we had the feeling we had the ship to ourselves. A staff member on board admitted that when the ship was full, you had to queue for everything. A truer word was never spoken, as our repositioning cruise on her near-identical sister, the Star, was less than pleasant.

The cruise from Vancouver to Los Angeles had an excellent itinerary, taking in Victoria BC, Seattle, Astoria, San Francisco, and Monterey. We were fully expecting to have to organise our own shore trips, being a repositioning cruise, and the shore tours mentioned in the NCL brochure and website were minimal. We’d gone to the trouble of organising – and prepaying for - a hire car in Seattle for some sightseeing, and were dismayed to find on embarkation in Vancouver that there were in fact shore tours available that would’ve met our needs. More on the ports of call shortly.

Checkin at Canada Place was somewhat disorganised. We’d disembarked from a Holland-America cruise from Alaska that morning, and killed an hour or so in the downstairs lobby of the Pan-Pacific hotel. We were able to get rid of our suitcases by around 10am, so could then join the actual checkin queue. There were two HAL ships, and two NCL ships leaving that day, and they were all fully booked, so there was plenty of noise and confusion. Interestingly, the only cruise representative around was from Holland-America, and he was kind enough to answer people’s questions as best he could – NCL should give him a few bucks, as they didn’t seem overly inclined to have any of their own staff available. We were eventually allowed through security to the checkin desk, and that’s where the fun began. The poor girl behind the counter wasn’t at all well trained – I think it was her first day – and she had to constantly consult with her overworked supervisor in order to check us in. Our passports were then given to the purser to input whatever information he needed onto his laptop. He had them for a good 10 minutes, then had to be asked before he reluctantly handed them over. (Incredibly, about two hours later, we received a phone call from the front desk, asking for my partner’s passport number!!). Anyway, once on board we were escorted to our cabin by a staff member. She seemed quite friendly at the time – this was obviously just for show, as she was pretty surly for the rest of the cruise. As it turned out, she had plenty of company in this regard. The cabin (we’d parted with the extra funds for a balcony – our first!) was quite nice; as we’d previously travelled on the Leo, we weren’t surprised by the somewhat eye-searing décor. There wasn’t much counter space for our bits and pieces, and there was only one bedside table. The bed, however, was very comfortable. The balcony was excellent, and has spoiled us for all time, I believe!! It was nice having a fridge in the cabin, though we could have done with more closet and drawer space. The bathroom was a mixture of good and bad – very clean and modern, but not much counter space once again. The shower was ok, though the water pressure wasn’t all that good. The toilet was in its own cubicle off the bathroom, and had a door. This may seem a good idea in theory, but the design was such that it wasn’t a very comfortable arrangement – the door was very narrow, and distance between the front of the commode and the bathroom wall was about 18 inches. There were some seriously large people on the cruise, and I really don’t know how they’d manage to get in and out of the toilet cubicles in their cabins – maybe other cabins have a better layout in this regard. The cabin itself had quite poor soundproofing – we could hear the people next door talking, watching TV etc, while you could hear almost every footfall from the cabin above. This was a real surprise to us, as we’ve never had this problem on any ship we’ve ever travelled on. In this respect, newer is definitely not better! Many others on board made this comment as well. Our two cabin attendants were fabulous, and couldn’t have done enough for us. They were completely unobtrusive, and had that magical ability of somehow knowing when you are or aren’t in your cabin. As it turns out, not everyone had such a great experience in this regard – I heard a number of negative comments about the cabin staff during this cruise.

Now for the bad news. Firstly, if you want to iron your own clothes, tough luck. You have to pay to have it done, and if you want your laundry back the same day, you have to pay double. This is the first time we’ve encountered this particular form of blackmail, and let me tell you, we weren’t exactly cheering. The next unpleasant surprise was the endless stream of announcements on the P.A. system. For some reason, the P.A. system throughout the ship was at an unbelieveably high volume, so that you could quite clearly hear every word being broadcast from the speakers in the corridor, even when out on the balcony! Heaven help you if you were actually in the corridor at the time – it was nothing to see my fellow passengers scurrying along the hallway with their fingers in their ears. The cruise director seemed to be in love with the sound of his own voice, and amused himself by reciting the entire day’s program over the P.A. twice a day, despite such information being readily available on the daily newsletter delivered to the cabin. As a supreme irony, the P.A. system at our lifeboat station was out of order, so we couldn’t hear a thing during the lifeboat demonstration. This, of course, was the one vital bit of information we would have liked to have heard…..

Moving right along, while the concept of “freestyle dining” sounds great in theory, in practice it didn’t seem quite so good - especially with a full ship. The main buffet was a complete zoo at mealtimes – I kept having flashbacks to my primary school cafeteria – with the food being pretty average, and passengers and crew doing their best not to collide with one another. The crew seemed to be there just for decoration, and only seemed to smile at one another – not to the passengers.

We tried the Versailles, Aqua and Endless Summer restaurants. The Versailles restaurant wasn’t too bad – it wasn’t too fantastic, either, though we encountered two of the better waiters on board the ship there – while the Aqua was a joke. The food was lukewarm, and the service slow and indifferent. We tried the Endless Summer restaurant on the last night; it had a Tex-Mex theme, and the food was easily the best we had all week – wish we’d gone there sooner! The waitress was fantastic – why couldn’t all of her colleagues been like her?
We also tried out the Blue Lagoon café for lunch a couple of times. The good news: they served the freshest, tastiest hamburgers I’ve ever tasted. The bad news: the waitresses were nothing short of appalling. It was a real shame, as the chefs behind the grill were very friendly.

For various reasons, we didn’t sample the cabaret entertainment. According to various friends we made on board, we didn’t miss much. We spent a grand total of 5 minutes and zero dollars on bingo, which we normally attend. Would you believe 29 bucks a throw? You’d have more fun tossing dollar bills over the stern and watching them being chopped up by the propellors.

In case you hadn’t noticed, we were pretty underwhelmed by the service on board. The vast majority of the waiters just didn’t give a damn, and this was particularly noticeable amongst the eastern European ones. The word “surly” comes to mind. I’m not sure why this was so – we did a Princess cruise last January, and our two waitresses were Polish and Rumanian respectively – they were both brilliant.

The front counter staff were shocking – I couldn’t believe their attitudes. When faced with a question they couldn’t answer easily, it was the hardest thing in the world for them to ask a supervisor – and even then the information was often wrong.

The ports of call were good. We’d both been to Victoria BC before, so didn’t feel the need to do Butchart Gardens again – having said that, it’s well worth a look, even on a rainy day. One of the shore tours offered was High Tea at the Empress Hotel; apparently it was grossly overbooked, and the people off the ship wound up in a basement area, after having to wait over an hour. I don’t know whose fault this was, but it certainly didn’t sound much fun. We visited the Royal BC Museum – highly recommended. Seattle was great fun, and the weather was warm and sunny. Being an aviation nut, I checked out both the Boeing Factory Tour, as well as the Museum of Flight. Both get top marks. Pike Place Market, which was quite close to where the ship was docked, is a must – great for strolling around and people-watching.

Astoria was very pretty, and the Maritime Museum is well worth a look. The whole thing was spoilt by a band who played at the dockside the entire time the ship was there – you couldn’t hear yourself think within half a mile of them. (Do I really need to hear a rendition of “Achey Breaky Heart) at 150dB when I’m on vacation?)

San Francisco was everything we’d hoped for. We did a late afternoon bus tour, organised through the shore tours desk. This was excellent, especially as our good luck with the weather still held. It’s a place we’ll definitely be back to.

Monterey was just delightful. We hadn’t a prayer of getting into their famous Aquarium – the queues were out the door and down the street – but we didn’t feel like we’d missed out, as there were any number of seals, sea lions and otters frolicking by the oceanfront.

The arrival into Los Angeles wasn’t too impressive. We were supposed to be docked by 7am, with the first passengers off by 7.30. As it turned out, we were docked by 7.15 – but the first passengers weren’t off until 9am. The terminal isn’t exactly in the most salubrious part of town, though luckily there were plenty of taxis. One tip if you are catching a taxi there – you don’t queue as you normally would. There’s a lady from the taxi company by the kerbside – you give her your name and destination which she writes on a clipboard, then she tells you which taxi is yours. She wasn’t exactly advertising this fact, so there were a lot of people standing around looking bewildered.

All in all, I doubt very much we’ll be cruising with NCL again. The ship was big but very noisy, the food mostly average, and the overall impression of the service was one of indifference. Having just left a Holland-America cruise, where the below-par crew member is rare, it was a bit of a shock to find the exact opposite on NCL.

This was our fifth cruise, and it was the first time we’ve ever looked forward to it being over.

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