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Nancy Norris

Age: Baby Boomer

Occupation:Travel Writer/Cruise Professional

Number of Cruises: Many

Cruise Line: Norwegian

Ship: Norwegian Star

Sailing Date: August 22nd, 2004

Itinerary: Alaska


Introduction:
Even though I have been on over 30 cruises, I was looking forward to my first Alaska cruise. As a former school teacher from the Midwest, I was always reluctant to give up any of my vacation time to go anywhere that did not offer sun and warm temperatures. Now that I have retired and can travel more leisurely to warm climes anytime of the year, I was more than ready for an Alaska adventure.

My flight from Cleveland to Seattle the night before the cruise was smooth and uneventful. In fact, despite the poor visibility and rainy conditions, we arrived at Sea-Tac Airport 15 minutes ahead of schedule. My friend, Pat, was flying in from Oakland and we planned to meet at the airport. Unfortunately, her flight on Alaska Air was delayed by about 45 minutes, so we never got to our hotel until after 9:30 pm. Having both been to Seattle before, for convenience we chose to stay at the Clarion by the airport. Although I was tired from my flight and my body clock was still on Eastern Standard Time, we felt a light meal and a welcome cocktail was in order. Someone I had met on my travels that day had recommended “13 Coins” which was near our hotel. We were very pleased with the suggestion. The entertainment was quite good and the food was excellent!!

Embarkation:
I awoke early the next morning to gloomy, gray skies, but didn’t allow it to dampen my spirits. This was, after all, the beginning of an Alaskan adventure, not a Caribbean holiday. I had made reservations with Seattle Express the night before for an 11:15 am hotel pick-up ($10 per person). The van arrived right on schedule and within 20 minutes had delivered us to our ship. The Norwegian Star was docked in a prime location at Pier 66. Although we had pier pick-up of our documents, the entire embarkation process was swift and efficient. We were already settled in our cabin by 12:30 pm.

Of course, I have made this sound quite painless, but in actuality getting to our cabin was a bit of a challenge. However, this was not the fault of NCL or their boarding process, but rather a kind of equipment failure. You see, Pat’s wheelchair had somehow developed 2 flat tires. There was no one available to escort us onto the ship, so we were forced to trudge up the ramp on our own. Now, if you have never tried to push a wheelchair with flat tires, I can attest to the fact that it requires a great amount of effort. Couple that with a somewhat steep ramp to get to the ship and the added burden of dragging my carry-on luggage behind me and I think you get the picture. Once we arrived at the top we were asked to show our Sign and Sail card in order to board the vessel. Well, surprise, surprise! Somewhere along our short trek I had managed to lose my card! I left Pat at the top and retraced my steps. Fortunately, it had been found and turned in to a security officer who was scanning luggage. Once on board, a Norwegian Star staff member took over and escorted us to our cabin; but not before we had stopped at reception to get some assistance with our wheelchair dilemma.

First Impressions:


Norwegian Star's Grand Atrium

The Norwegian Star was the first ship in NCL’s fleet that was designed specifically for “Freestyle Dining”. Having sailed on NCL’s older ships (the Sea, the Dream and the Wind), I was anxious to experience a cruise on one of their ships that was actually built for this new concept. It was obvious the moment I stepped on board that this would be a much different experience than my previous NCL cruises. I was immediately impressed with the Grand Atrium. A fountain surrounded by flowers and suspended geese is the focal point of this expanse of space. Dual spiral staircases and decorative glass elevators act as a backdrop to an attractive coffee bar.

My Cabin:
We occupied inside Cabin #10661 Midship. At only 142 sq. ft the space proved to be a bit cramped for two, particularly since there were bars under the beds that did not allow for storage of all our luggage. Thus, tripping over suitcases at the foot of the beds became a daily occurrence for us. Other than that minor complaint, the cabin was sufficient. The two twin beds sat along a cherry wood paneling back wall that was divided by a small mirror. The bedspreads and carpeting maintained the “Star” theme with colorful stars scattered on a blue background. Two very small functional end tables with two shelves, but no drawers sat between the beds. A light was mounted above each bed. At the foot of one bed was a small desk and chair. The telephone was mounted on the wall above the desk and an open shelf above the desk housed the TV. On the opposite wall, at the foot of the other bed, was a small angular dressing table with a stool. A very powerful and efficient hair dryer was mounted on the wall. A small mirror was provided above the dressing table and a couple drawers sat below. (Drawer space was definitely minimal). The lighting in this area was not the best and make-up is best applied in the bathroom. There was also a small refrigerator along this wall and a safe was provided. The cherry wood closets were ample and also housed additional shelves for storage. Be careful with the closet doors. The hall between the closet and bathroom is relatively narrow and it is impossible to open the bathroom door when the closet door is open.

The bathroom was small (I know I have used that word to describe most of the amenities of this room, but it is applicable), but efficient. One of the best features was the sliding glass doors on the shower. No more clinging shower curtain – Yahoo! Water pressure and lighting were both excellent. Once again shelving was sparse, but we managed to make do on this one week cruise. I would suggest if there is more than one person occupying this cabin that you invest in a hanging shoe caddy and use that to store all your toiletries, etc.

The Since dining is such an important aspect of the “freestyle experience, as I describe the layout of the ship I will do so in two parts. First, I will describe all of the public areas of the ship, minus the dining venues. Then, I will devote a separate section to a description of the various dining options. Only cabins and the Medical Center are located on Deck 4, the lowest public deck on the ship. The only facility on Deck 5, other than more cabins, is the main floor and stage of the tri-level Stardust Theater.

Deck 6 is one of the main thoroughfares. It is on this deck that you will find the main dining rooms, Le Bistro and the SoHo Room. Just outside the entrances to Le Bistro and the SoHo Room, Midship, were The Wine Cellar, the Havana Club and Gatsby’s Champagne Bar.


The Wine Cellar

The Wine Cellar was a small area adjoining Le Bistro, and was sometimes used as an overflow for Le Bistro Dining. Opposite the Wine Cellar was Gatsby’s. It was a great spot to meet for pre-dinner cocktails. A baby grand piano sat between these two lounge areas, and two very talented piano players took turns performing there nightly at both pre-dinner and late night sessions. Adjacent to Gatsby’s and the Wine Cellar was the Havana Club. This stylish, enclosed area was the cigar lounge. Moving forward is a nice size casino. While the Star was cruising in Hawaii this space was Dazzles Nightclub. It has been converted into a full service casino with a large bank of slot machines. This area proved to be quite popular on this cruise. From here the starboard hallway leads to the main entrance of the Stardust Theater. This tri-level main showroom is functional but is rather stark in comparison to the ornate theaters ordaining many ships today. Valances of red and gold draperies are about the only decorative touch I noticed.

From the theater we can move to Deck 7, the balcony level of the showroom. Be aware that the sight lines are excellent from any seat on the main floor, but visibility in many areas of the balcony is poor. As we depart from the balcony level of the theater and move aft, we enter the Carousel Nightclub. Carousel horses are used for bar stools and the overall décor is circus themed. It was a little too over the top for my taste, but it was a popular spot and was one of the more active lounges on the ship. A small annex along the port side of the Carousel Nightclub was the Martini Bar. Tucked away in a corner this space was overlooked by many and rarely used. Moving aft on the starboard hall we pass through the Photo Gallery and the entrances to Ginza and the Teppanyaki Room. From this point we find ourselves Midship and in the Grand Atrium. This area was always a hub of activity.


The Java Cafe

A small set of stairs in the center of the Atrium led to the Java Café, a great coffee bar that also served as an additional lounge. The open seating made this a perfect place to do some serious people watching. The Capella and Port of Call Shops, as well as Guest Services and the Shore Excursion desk are on the outer periphery of the Atrium. Continuing aft, on the starboard side is the Blue Lagoon Snack Bar and on the portside is The Red Lion Pub.


The Red Lion Pub

The Red Lion Pub is an authentic English Pub, even down to the traditional fish and chips pub grub. The dark woods and banquette style seating was quite appealing and the space exuded a lively and friendly ambiance. It was one of my favorite public areas of the ship. A large screen TV occupied the back wall and was frequently tuned to one of the many baseball games being televised that week. Continuing aft led to one of the largest galleria shopping areas I have seen on a ship.

Staterooms occupy Decks 8, 9, 10 and 11, with the exception of the Endless Summer Restaurant on Deck 8, a great Internet Café on Deck 9 and the Barong Spa on Deck 11. The spa has a full service hair and beauty salon, separate men and women’s steam rooms and saunas and numerous treatment rooms. But, a large indoor lap pool, hydrobath and Jacuzzi were the highlights of the tasteful and stylish Barong Spa. I did not sample any of the spa treatments on this cruise, but those of our group that did were more than satisfied.


The Children's Pool Area

Directly above the spa on Deck 12 was the Barong Spa Fitness Center complete with a large Juice Bar, a Video Arcade and the Children’s Pool. Moving forward from the Fitness Center was the Market Café, La Trattoria and the Kid’s Café (more about that in the next section).


The Oasis Pool

From here we move to the Oasis Pool area on the open deck. Here you will find an expanse of tiered lounging space, two slides, four Jacuzzis and the pool. Adjacent to the pool was Topsiders Bar, Sprinkles Ice Cream Bar and The Grill. Although there appeared to be a sufficient number of lounge chairs on the multiple levels to accommodate large crowds, the area directly around the pool and Jacuzzis was cramped and crowded (and this was on an Alaska cruise). Continuing forward from the pool area was the location of numerous meeting rooms, the card room, a reading room, the library and a lifestyles room (whatever that is – I’m still not sure). The cinema, a chapel and the Spinnaker Lounge are in the most forward section of Deck 12. The Spinnaker Lounge is a comfortable lounge decorated in vibrant colors. There is a raised bar, a sunken dance floor and expansive windows that provide tremendous views of the passing scenery.

Above the Spinnaker Lounge on Deck 13 is a sun deck and another Jacuzzi. It is from this deck that you also gain access to the BierGarten on Deck 14. The jogging track is on Deck 13, as is the helipad and Planet Kids, the children’s area. Midship on Deck 13 is Cagney’s Steakhouse and the Star Bar. We attempted to visit the Star Bar a few times during the cruise, but on each occasion it was closed. Garden Villa Suites, the Sports Court and BierGarten occupy Deck 14. The BierGarten serves hot pretzels and sausages for appetizers to accompany your Bavarian beer.

Dining Experience:
There are 10 restaurants on the Norwegian Star; the first of the ship’s designed specifically for “Freestyle Dining”. I was looking forward to trying as many of the venues as possible on my 7 night cruise. First, let’s look at the dining options that do not require a reservation nor an additional cover charge.


The Versailles Dining Room

There were two main dining rooms on the Star: The Versailles and Aqua. Of the two main restaurants, The Versailles is much more ornate than the modern and minimalist décor of the Aqua Restaurant. Ornate red walls and a stunning crystal chandelier are reminiscent of the palace it is named after. Unfortunately, I did not find the quality of the food or service to be as princely. In fact, it was a disappointment. We dined there for dinner only one evening and the food was mediocre with service to match. We ate there specifically because it was surf and turf night. The “surf”, although a very small portion, was much better than my “turf”, which was tough and too well done. The wait staff was slow and customer satisfaction was obviously not a priority for them. I will say that when we ate there for lunch the service and food was much better. Before moving on, let me make another comment regarding the physical aspects of the Versailles. For dinner we were seated near the entrance on the starboard side. It was extremely chilly, to the point of being uncomfortable and may have contributed to my opinion of the dining experience. For lunch we were seated in the center near the rear of the dining room. The temperature was acceptable, but it was exceptionally noisy in this area. I cannot comment on the Aqua as we did not have the opportunity to eat there. Others from our group that did had mixed reviews, but overall were not impressed.

The Market Café is the traditional buffet area and offered the traditional buffet fare with a few additional perks. In addition to the main buffet lines, there were stations scattered throughout the café that provided pleasant alternatives. At breakfast I would recommend the omelets, eggs cooked to order and the waffle station. At lunch there was a separate fruit station providing an array of fresh fruits daily which was quite good. TIP: There is a buffet line portside in the very rear of the café that never had a line, but offered exactly the same food. In my opinion, one of the nicest additions was the separate Kid’s Café. “Kid size” tables and chairs occupied one corner of the café. A buffet at child eye level offered hot dogs, hamburgers and such. What a great idea!

The Blue Lagoon is labeled as the 24 hour snack bar. Personally, I preferred this over the Market Café for lunch or light meals and believe it qualifies for more than just a snack bar. Chicken wings, burgers, fish and chips, salads, soup and Asian noodle and rice dishes could be ordered here. It also offered take-out service. It was often crowded, but I found ordering take-out and finding another location to dine was a good solution. Of course, I find this kind of fare appeals to my taste preferences and was a nice alternative to the full course meals I was consuming for dinner.

Now for the Specialty Restaurants and optional dining venues that require reservations: La Trattoria serves typical Italian cuisine, and although reservations are required, there is no additional cover charge. This is actually a section of the Market Café that is converted into an Italian eatery in the evening. I had wanted to try this venue during our cruise, but was unable to get reservations on the one night that we had chosen to dine there. Everyone I spoke with that had dined there was quite pleased. They found the service and the selections to be well above average. It may explain why this was a very popular dining choice. Make sure to make reservations for this restaurant very early in the cruise.

Endless Summer, another restaurant that requires reservations but no cover, offers Tex-Mex cuisine. This was one of the more interesting restaurants from a décor perspective. Overlooking the Grand Atrium, I found the space to be exceptionally appealing; but unfortunately, the cuisine did not appeal to my taste. Nor did it appeal to my traveling companions, so we did not take the opportunity to dine there. Apparently there were many people onboard who agreed with me because I never saw this dining venue busy.

The SoHo was superb! Decorated in Andy Warhol fashion, it serves a rather eclectic Pacific Rim cuisine. We dined there twice during the cruise and enjoyed both visits immensely. They serve lobster, but it did not compare to the outstanding tiger prawns. (Make sure to save room for the tempura chocolate cake with caramel fudge sauce). The wait staff there receives some of the highest marks of the crew for their attention to customers needs. In addition to the excellent food, they certainly aided in making these dining experiences memorable. This restaurant is most definitely worth the $15 cover charge. The caviar served as an appetizer is worth the cover alone.


Le Bistro Restaurant

LeBistro is a cozy and very inviting restaurant serving French and Mediterranean cuisine. Rich woods and fabrics, low lighting and banquette seating make this the most romantic and intimate of the dining choices. Food preparation and service on our visit was impeccable. I enjoyed my filet mignon with béarnaise sauce prepared exactly as ordered. To complement my main entrée, I savored every tasty escargot and sumptuously delighted in the forest mushroom soup. Salad was prepared tableside. LeBistro also offers an extensive and very interesting wine list. I would most assuredly recommend you pay the extra $15 pp cover and dine here at least once.

Cagney’s Steakhouse was a classic on par with Ruth Chris’s. The room is attractive and comfortable. It reminded me of a traditional “Chicago Style” steakhouse. Although Cagney’s is the most expensive of the alternative dining choices ($20 cover), it is definitely warranted. I could have dined here nightly and gladly paid the additional cover. My filet mignon was perfection! It was perhaps the most tender filet I have ever had and veritably melted in my mouth. The waiter was attentive and personable making the dining experience that much more enjoyable. Dining here was a real treat and I delighted in every moment.


The Ginza Sushi Bar

Ginza, the last of the dining options is really three venues in one. Serving Asian-Fusion cuisine, we did not dine at Ginza for dinner, but did have lunch there a few times. Reservations are not required for lunch, but there is a $12.50 cover charge. Now, I am not a fan of this kind of food, so I did not actually sample the fare here, but my dining companions did and absolutely loved it!! (While they dined I enjoyed a glass of wine and the company and then made a quick visit to the Blue Lagoon for take-out). I found the atmosphere to be appealing at lunch and the service was friendly, but a bit sporadic.

No reservation is required at the revolving Sushi Bar, but a la carte pricing is in effect. For lunch, on days at sea, a special “All you can eat” at the Sushi Bar was featured for $10. The Teppanyaki Room is a private “Benihana style” dining room that is tucked in a corner of the Ginza. Private dining for 12 is a real event here. The entire meal is choreographed and timed, thus reservations are made based on a pre-fixed schedule. Our group enjoyed a 9:00 PM dining experience that was award-winning. A la carte pricing is in effect and I went for the full fare of scallops, shrimp and filet. All were excellent and this is another venue I would highly recommend.

So, there you have it! Cruising on NCL is all about the “freestyle experience” and I have concluded that the best way to enjoy this alternative dining style is to commit to spending the extra money for the specialty restaurants. Those from our group that chose to eat only at the venues that were included in the cruise price were disappointed and unhappy with the food on the Star. For me, and those of us who chose to sample the alternatives, the dining experience was outstanding. In this case, the old adage: “You get what you pay for” is apropos.


The Norwegian Star in Alaska

The Cruise:
I would like to preface the details of my cruise by explaining that I planned to take two back-to-back Alaska cruises, this being the first. You may notice that as I describe the week’s events that I do not mention many of the usual activities one experiences on an Alaska cruise. Since my friend Pat was accompanying me on the first cruise and she was somewhat limited as to her mobility, I had decided to reserve the more adventurous excursions for week two.

Sunday, Day 1: (Seattle sail-away)
While waiting for our wheelchair situation to be resolved, we decided to head to the Market Café for the luncheon buffet. It wasn’t until after we had eaten that we discovered that lunch was also being served in the Aqua Restaurant. We were looking forward to dining in the alternative restaurants; so, after lunch I made a trip to the reservations table in the Grand Atrium. Reservations cannot be made more than one day in advance, so I made reservations for the SoHo Room for this evening and LeBistro tomorrow night.

Before we had time to settle into cruise mode, it was time for the mandatory emergency boat drill. Our cabin seemed miles away from our assigned station and we decided that in a real emergency there was no way we would ever make it here successfully. It was nothing, however, to the time it took to weave through the crowds to return to our cabin after the drill. While Pat got herself organized in the cabin, I went poolside to check out the SailAway party. It was my first opportunity to hear Ironics, a very talented dance band. Upon my return, I discovered that all luggage had been delivered to the cabins, but mine was mysteriously missing. When I called reception, I was informed that my luggage had been confiscated because it contained “illegal contraband”. HUH???? Well, my illegal goods were actually 3 bottles of wine I had brought for my personal consumption in the cabin. That is now a definite “No-No” on NCL. I had to go downstairs, claim my luggage and receive a receipt for my wine. I would be permitted to pick it up on Sunday morning before departing the ship. I was not alone, and the line of other criminals was rather lengthy. I use the term, criminals, because I believe NCL handled the situation poorly and did little to nurture a positive passenger outlook.

By the time my luggage was delivered, I was running late for the Hosted Cocktail Party scheduled for our group. Although a bit tardy, it was nice to gather with others from our group. After the cocktail party, a group of us continued the party with a wonderful dinner at the SoHo Room. My tiger prawns accompanied by tortellini was outstanding, as was the service. Lively conversation ensued and our group managed to close the restaurant that evening. Although we were the last ones to vacate the restaurant, the wait staff was extremely gracious about allowing us to linger and never once indicated that they were waiting on us to close. (Although the truth is they were!) By now it was getting late, but Pat and I enjoyed one final nightcap at Gatsby’s Champagne Bar before retiring. After all, we needed a good night’s sleep to be ready for our morning seminar scheduled the next day.

Monday, Day 2: (Cruising the Inside Passage)
We had ordered coffee from room service to jump start our morning and then made our way to the Aqua Restaurant for our 9:00 AM seminar. It was an excellent seminar and time passed quickly. At noon our seminar concluded and a group of us chose to dine on sushi for lunch at Ginza. Well, let me be honest! I joined a group while they dined on sushi and sashimi. I chose not to partake, but enjoyed their company over a glass of wine. After lunch, I made a quick trip to the Blue Lagoon snack bar for a light bite. As the weather was a relatively mild 70 degrees with partly cloudy conditions, I made my way to the pool deck to enjoy the passing scenery of the inside passage. Well, I am not quite sure what I expected, but I will tell you I saw lots and lots of trees! I had brought my binoculars and spent some time scouting for wildlife in the dense woods, but was unsuccessful. I did, however, catch a glimpse of a few whales near the ship.

This was an optional formal night and also Pat’s birthday, so we decided to don our formals. We had a private birthday celebration, and then joined others from our group for pre-dinner cocktails. We weren’t keeping good track of time; and by the time we did arrive at LeBistro, we were over half hour late for our reservation. Although they had given our table away, the restaurant was still very accommodating and it was only a matter of a few minutes before we were seated. This evening I enjoyed a filet mignon with béarnaise sauce. Having dined at Le Bistro on other NCL ships, I can tell you this is definitely one of their signature dishes. Well, once again we entertained ourselves with scintillating conversation, lingered over coffee and missed the Jean Ann Ryan production show of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Music of the Night”. As a Broadway musical buff and fan of Andrew Lloyd Weber, I was a tiny bit disappointed, but this was after all Pat’s birthday and it was her night. After dinner, we thought briefly about going to the comedy show but realized we were even too late for that. Oh well! We weren’t too late to participate in the New Year’s Eve party at 11:30 PM in the Spinnaker Lounge, however. We enjoyed the Ironics Band, danced a bit and had great fun participating in the countdown to midnight. We wandered the ship trying to decide where to enjoy a final nightcap and ultimately ended our evening at the Carousel Nightclub. It turned into a rather late night, but one that was thoroughly enjoyable.


Juneau, Alaska

Tuesday, Day 3: (Juneau)
We arrived in the port area about noon, but another NCL ship was presently occupying our berth. So, from noon until about 2:00 PM, guests were tendered ashore, until the dock space was vacated. Pat was planning to use her wheelchair, so we decided just to stay onboard until the ship actually docked. For me, this turned out to be a bonus! It was a beautiful sunny day in the mid 70’s. As we anchored at the foot of Mount Roberts, I enjoyed a Jacuzzi afternoon and the BBQ Luncheon being served poolside. Lounging in the sun, with the spectacular mountain scenery as a backdrop, was a surreal experience that will remain a special memory. It was 3:00 PM before we actually made it ashore. The Star was docked quite a way from the center of town and complimentary bus shuttle service was being offered. Since it was such a beautiful day we decided to walk.


Mendenhall Glacier

We took a Mendenhall Glacier public bus ($10 round trip) for the 20 minute ride to the park. Once there, we left Pat at the visitor’s center and took a vigorous hike to the glacier waterfall. I had been anticipating this view for a long time and was thoroughly impressed. The massive glacier with its blue aura was an awesome sight to behold.

Upon our return to town, we took a self-guided walking tour. Our exploration took us to the waterfront area where many of the seaplanes depart. We found “The Hanger”, a local waterfront restaurant that offered exceptional views of the harbor. It was such a beautiful day, we decided to take a refreshment break and admire the view.


Juneau's Red Dog Saloon

From there we made our requisite trip to the Red Dog Saloon. For years I had heard about this place, but the reality was a huge disappointment. It seems that the piano player, who is an institution, was not there that day, and the duo that were his replacement were a poor substitute. Apparently, my feelings were shared by many as it was relatively quiet and not very crowded. We had a quick brew and then did a bit of window shopping as we leisurely strolled back to the ship.

By the time we got back onboard, we had just enough time for a short rest before preparing for dinner. We had made reservations at Cagney’s Steakhouse that evening and did not want to repeat last night’s late arrival. Arriving on time for our 9:00 PM dinner we were seated immediately. This was by far my favorite dining experience of the cruise. I dined on a filet mignon that was perfection. Although this is the most expensive alternative restaurant ($20 per person cover), it was worth every penny! Impeccable service matched a most delectable meal. Once again, we found ourselves the last to leave the restaurant. Hmmm, I see a pattern developing here. We made our way to the Spinnaker Lounge this evening for the Disco Groove Party. Since it began at 10:30 and we did not arrive until after 11:00, things were already starting to wind down. Apparently last nights revelry was a fluke, as this was definitely not a “disco” crowd and dancing was not going to be a high point of this cruise. Pat and I had a final cocktail at the Red Lion Pub and called it an evening.


Downtown Skagway

Wednesday, Day 4: (Skagway)
I awoke to another mild and pleasant day. To this point the weather was being quite cooperative for my first visit to Alaska. I enjoyed a hearty breakfast at the Market Café before meeting others from our group for a hike to Lower Dewey Lake. Skagway was picturesque and obviously becoming quite popular as a tourist destination. The streets were lined with boutiques, souvenir shops and galleries. Old store fronts and buildings have been restored and look much like they did in the 1890’s when it was a gold rush boomtown.


Lower Dewey Lake

We joined another of our hiking party at the Starbucks in town and headed off in the direction of Dewey Lake. The hike was quite enjoyable, although there were some rather steep inclines that we were required to traverse as we made our way to Lower Dewey Lake. Wow! The hike was definitely worth the effort! The lake’s pristine beauty was simply spectacular. I could easily have spent hours in silent reverie here.

Pat had stayed onboard while we partook of our morning walk, so we returned to the ship to gather her and return to the town for more exploration. Well, her idea of exploring (having been to Skagway a number of times) was to visit the Red Onion Saloon.


Skagway's Red Onion Saloon

This former bordello was another of those infamous bars on the Alaska circuit, but once again was a huge disappointment. A jazz combo was performing but there sound was overpowering this small bar and we couldn’t wait to vacate the premises. From here we thought we would attempt a pub crawl with intermittent shopping stops through town. Well, nearing the end of the cruising season, there were bargains everywhere, but the pub crawl was not as successful. We did venture into a few local spots, but heavy cigarette smoke drove us out of them rather quickly. By the time we tried a few local spots, we decided to call it quits and head back to the ship. Of course, “the criminal” who attempted to bring contraband aboard was caught once again. I mentioned that there were great bargains to be had, so I took advantage of the situation and purchased some ulu knife gift sets for Christmas presents. Well, this is another “no-no” according to NCL and now these were confiscated and I was given a receipt to collect these on Sunday before disembarking! Hmm, I guess I will need to plan to get up very early that morning in order to reclaim all my possessions.

Having missed lunch, we made a quick stop at the Red Lion Pub to sample the tasty fish and chips they serve as a pub snack. We then returned to our cabin for a short rest before preparing for dinner. This evening was surf and turf night in the main dining rooms so we planned to dine in the Versailles that evening. Huge mistake. The food was mediocre and the service was slow. Perhaps the worst part of the dining experience was the temperature of the dining room. It was freezing and I was not wearing a winter coat. As I looked around the room, it was obvious others had eaten here before, because most were wearing light jackets or wraps. Well, so much for the main dining experience. I was unimpressed with the decor of the Aqua Restaurant (the other main dining venue), so I would be dining in the alternative choices for the duration of the cruise. (Of course, in all honesty I probably would have anyhow as it was my goal to experience as many of the dining venues as possible). Tonight the “Ship n Males” All Adult Male Revue was the highlight! Scheduled for midnight, ladies don’t miss this one!! This official girls night out is worth staying up for.

Day 5: (Cruising Glacier Bay)
This morning our weather began to turn and it was rainy and chilly for our cruising of Glacier Bay. We entered Glacier Bay National Park very early in the morning and at approximately 8:00 AM park rangers began a running commentary of our journey through the park. The presentation broadcast via the ships P.A. system was quite informative. After spending a portion of the morning on deck, I met others from our group to enjoy the impressive view from the Ginza Room, as they enjoyed another sushi lunch. Having risen early for our passage, I opted to return to the cabin after lunch for a pleasant nap. One thing that can be said for an inside cabin is that they are perfect for daytime naps. (Something to consider when cruising during the long summer days.) I awoke refreshed and opted for a late afternoon Jacuzzi session. From that vantage point I spotted more whales. Time passed quickly and it was time to prepare for dinner.

One of the members of our travel group had been able to reserve the Teppanyaki Room at 9:00 P.M. for 10 of us. We gathered for pre-dinner cocktails at 8:00 pm at Gatsby’s and then proceeded to the private dining area of Ginza. Not having been personally impressed with the fare offered at Ginza, I was not overly excited about dinner. What a surprise! My meal was excellent and the experience was wonderful! I dined on scallops, shrimp and filet, plus all the accoutrements. A feast would be an understatement in describing tonight’s banquet of food. Not wishing to call it a night, after dinner the group moved to the Carousel Nightclub. It was karaoke night, and although none of us participated, we enjoyed listening to others.

Day 6: (Ketchikan)
The morning began as a dreary, rainy and chilly (50°) day, but became more promising as the morning progressed. Although the skies were still changeable, it cleared up enough for us to venture ashore. We were being tendered to shore and by the time we decided to head off, it was open tendering. The salmon were running, so we walked to Creek Street to observe the phenomenon.


Ketchikan's Creek Street

The Creek Street Bridge was a perfect vantage point for watching this spectacle of nature. From there we visited the Salmon Fish Hatchery where I learned every detail of the unfortunate life cycle of the salmon.


Ketchikan's Heritage Park

We did a bit of shopping and sightseeing as we made our way back to catch the 1:00 pm tender to the ship. Unfortunately, it had begun to rain again and as we approached the tender station, discovered a huge line of like minded passengers were ahead of us.


The Port of Ketchikan's Shops

Not wishing to stand in the pelting rain without shelter, we inquired as to the nearest bar to wait it out. We were directed around the corner to the Arctic Bar. What a find! Not only was it a slice of local flavor, the patio conveniently overlooked the tenders. The bar quickly filled with others from the Star that had the same idea we did. The crew operating the tenders instructed us to stay put and they would be happy to yell up to us when the last tender was ready to go. Finally, about 2:30 we were instructed to make our way down. The entire tender was occupied by the Arctic Bar patrons. So, as the Arctic Bar Tender made its way to the Star, someone from the large contingency suggested the party not end just yet and we should all meet in the Red Lion Pub for an Arctic Bar toast. Well, I had been partying all afternoon so it sounded like a good idea to me and I joined the festivities. A good time was had by all. I did feel bad that my roommate Pat had decided not to go ashore, because this certainly turned out to be her kind of day.

Well after a fun-filled afternoon, I needed to take a nap in order to be ready for our travel group picture which was scheduled at 7 pm in the Grand Atrium. We had hoped to dine at La Trattoria that evening, but were unable to garner a convenient reservation time. The only other alternative restaurant we had not sampled was Endless Summer, but as none of us were in the mood for Tex-Mex, we made reservations for dinner at the SoHo Room again. This evening I sampled the veal chop. Although it was not as tasty as my prawns on the previous visit, it was a satisfying meal. From there we caught the end of the passenger talent show. One of the members of our group was singing and we were hoping to make it there in time to support him. Unfortunately, we were moments too late. After the talent show, a group of us attended Cirque Asia. This excellent Jean Ann Ryan Production show was fashioned after the Cirque de Soleil performances and was a bit of a diversion from the standard cruise production fare. Following the show, I called it a night; but Pat decided to enjoy the jazz that was being performed in the Red Lion Pub that evening.

Day 7: (Victoria, B.C.)
I enjoyed the morning seminar in the Aqua Restaurant, scheduled from 9 AM until noon. After the seminar, a number of us chose to continue our “shop talk” over lunch at the Versailles. It was quite a lively discussion and we all lingered over an extra cup of coffee before going our separate ways. We were not scheduled to arrive in Vancouver until 6:00 PM, so I spent the afternoon taking a final tour of the ship gathering pictures for this review.


Along the Way to Victoria in Victoria Park

Our seminar leader assured a group of us that it was a very short walk from the port into Victoria proper, and foolishly we believed him. So, off the group of us went, with our seminar leader in control. Well, granted the walk was quite beautiful and the scenery lovely, but SHORT it was not.


Victoria Park Pond

Usually this would not be an issue for me, but based on his assurance I had chosen to wear style shoes, not smile shoes. As I grumbled my way through the park, up hills and over rocky terrain we finally arrived at our destination, the Empress Hotel. What a fabulous property. We found an ideal spot to share some wine and the picture perfect sunset on the patio of the Empress Hotel. As the sun set, the air took on a slight chill and the staff of the Empress provided blankets for our comfort while finishing our wine. What service! This was a great way to end my Alaska cruise. With my feet rested and ready to proceed we walked back to the ship, albeit via a less circuitous route.


The Famous Empress Hotel, Victoria, Canada

We had planned to dine in Vancouver, but found ourselves transfixed on the Empress patio and missed dinner. So, upon returning to the ship we dined casually on fish and chips in the Red Lion Pub. They were no longer serving in the Pub, but we were able to place a take-out order at the Blue Lagoon and they delivered it to our table in the Pub. This is a fine example of the many extra services the staff of the Star graciously and willingly performed. It seems to negate the fear that pre-paid gratuities automatically mean poor service. That was certainly not the case on the Star. Well, this was the last evening and now the dreaded task of packing could no longer be avoided. Pat and I made our way to our cabin to tackle our chore.

Disembarkation:
Well, hectic and stressful could probably best describe my morning. First, I had to rise early to claim all of my “illegal contraband”, then figure out how I was going to pack it last minute. Fortunately (and unfortunately as you will shortly discover), I had decided not to put out my luggage the night before, but was going to carry it all off myself. No problem! Well, I was in the process of gathering everything together to make the transition from cabin to dockside when I discovered a major problem. The luggage strap that links my pieces together was missing! Now what? There was no way that I could carry three large pieces of luggage from the ship by myself in one trip. I completely unpacked all of my suitcases in an attempt to find the missing strap. No luck! Getting off the ship was becoming as much of a hassle as it was getting on. As I sat on the floor assessing my options, fortunately a friend came to the rescue. I was planning to grab a taxi to the airport with another member of our group and they were able to assist me in getting my luggage off the ship. Friends certainly are a valued commodity. As for the disembarkation process itself, it was a smooth and efficient operation. I arrived at the Seattle airport before 10:00 AM.

Overall Impression:
The Star was certainly a huge improvement over the other NCL ships I had sailed. She is a beautiful vessel and has much to offer. In order to maximize your enjoyment of this cruise, I think it is imperative to spend the extra money to dine in the alternative restaurants (or at least be aware that your experience will not be as positive if you choose not to). Overall, I found the staff and service to be very good. There are a number of exceptional aspects of a Star cruise, but there are also some shortcomings. Would I sail her again? Definitely! After all, I still have a few restaurants to test and I would like to appreciate first-hand some of the outstanding shows that I missed.

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