You can go to the pier as early as 11:00am for embarkation even though your cruise package may say 1pm. We sailed on the Star to Mexico in April 2005. It was a beautiful ship. Service was good. Food was nothing spectacular, about the same as your local average to above average restaurant. We've sailed on Princess before and NCL does not compare. But the important thing for cruisers to remember is it's a holiday. Just relax and don't go with a pre-conceived expectation. You'd be setting yourself up for disappointment. Although our NCL cruise on the Star was a notch down from Princess, we still had a great time. We sailed as a couple with Princess but have sailed as a family with kids on NCL. I find NCL is alot more accommodating to kids. Kids under age 3 do not pay a cruise fare just the taxes. For select sailings, the 3/4th passenger (irregardless of age) in the same stateroom does not pay a fare!! You will not find that with any other cruiseline. Because of NCL's understanding of people who want to enjoy a cruise but not pay outrageous prices with their kids, we will be cruising with them again. We plan to have a great time...and we will...even if it's not the best food, even if they seem to to offer better food at an extra cost, or sometimes seem disorganized with embarkation/disembarkation, etc....
We would love to sail with Princess again or try RCCL, HAL, Celebrity...but they are too darn expensive.
Take others reviews as that... Just have fun.