We sailed on the Norwegian Star out of Tampa, Fl. on Nov. 27, 2011.
Overall, this was a great cruise for us. Given my health and mobility problems, the ship is a little longer than I like. Hard for me to get around. But, well worth it. We had previously sailed on the Dawn, which is the Star’s sister ship. There were several differences, even though the basic layout is the same. The gift shops on the Star were not as nice as those on the Dawn. Not really a problem, since I don’t cruise to shop. The 24 hour restaurant, called the Blue Lagoon, was significantly better. Instead of plastic tables and chairs and mediocre food, as it was on the Dawn, the Star’s version was very nice. Fairly elegant atmosphere and the food was quite good. We even ate dinner there one night, as I was too tired to do anything else.
In general, the food was better than I had expected. Very disappointing the first night, but then it did an about face and was generally quite good. They had even solved the problems of stale bread and poor desserts, which we had experienced on the Dawn. And the Market Café, their name for the Lido deck buffet, was surprisingly good. I could have eaten every meal there and not felt cheated. Good variety and most of what we tried was very tasty.
Probably the biggest factor in our enjoyment of the cruise, though, was the attitude of the crew. Almost every person working on the Star was cordial and very friendly. We got smiles from virtually everyone we encountered. And that is contagious. Passengers who receive lots of smiles tend to offer their own. So, the general atmosphere was welcoming and pleasant.
In particular, the Cruise Director, Jaimie, and her assistant, Christine, were very professional, yet warm and friendly. Christine was especially open to engaging passengers, not just for activities, but to answer questions or just chat. Great team.
Okay, day by day. The embarkation was a tad rough. Happened to arrive just when it was mobbed and that is nobody’s fault. I was worn out by the time we got on board. Got a bite to eat at the buffet, then rested a bit and unpacked. The main dining rooms now use a beeper system, like many restaurants do. I don’t know if it is the economy or just the random nature of cruises, but the MDR’s were packed every night. We were standing in line to get a beeper when a man gave my husband a hard shove. He turned around to confront whoever it was and it turned out to be a friend who lives about ½ block down the street from us! He and his wife were traveling with another couple, who are also neighbors. We had dinner with them twice during the week and that was definitely the icing on the cake for us.
I had a very hard time the first night, as you had to walk down one deck after your beeper went off. Very painful for me. The next day, I received a new cruise card that would take the elevator down to the level of the dining room and then gave us priority seating. It made dinner a lot easier for me and it was not something I had asked for or even knew about. The maitre d’ apparently noticed my problem and gave me a way around it. That was a gracious nicety, especially since it was unexpected.
The wait staff in the Versailles (the aft MDR) was exceptional. Every night, we received service as good as or better than traditional dining on past cruises.
Day 2 was Roatan, Honduras. This is one of our favorite ports, but we had been disappointed the year before on Carnival, when their ship docked at Mahogany Bay. Really disliked that. But the Star docked in Coxen Hole. We had signed up for a tour that went to an island where they offered snorkeling. It was called Maya Key Resort, though the name of island is Anthony’s Key. We were a little afraid that it might be very hokey, but were very pleasantly surprised. It is mostly a wildlife refuge for local critters. Rental on the snorkeling gear was very reasonable. There was a long dock, with a snorkel area marked off. A shallow reef, with a lifeguard keeping an eye on things. Not great snorkeling, but still fun. My DH went for the swimming pool, then we walked around. The animals were in very large cages, so that they had room to run around and there was a simple wooden rail to alert people not to feed a hand to the jaguars. The howler monkeys were not confined, but lived on a smaller island across a small inlet. We even had a baby howler monkey run right between our legs. We then had a tasty lunch, which was included, then headed back to Coxen Hole. Walked around a bit in Coxen Hole, then back to the ship.
Day 3 was Belize, again a favorite of ours. In spite of the cruise lines all trying to discourage people from going outside of the “safe” zone, which is mostly overpriced tourist stuff and bars, we went out back to the Flea Market, which is primarily a craft market. Locals are friendly and, since this used to be British Honduras, they speak good English….although their local patois is beyond me. My husband is a hand drummer and had drummed with the locals in Roatan, then again in Belize. He knows their rhythms and loves communicating with others via music. I did pay a visit the Loom Store, which sells fabulous locally made textiles. Can’t afford the rugs, but the decorative pillow covers are amazing. Not cheap, but they look well worth their price.
Day 4 we were in Costa Maya. Skipped the high priced enclave and took a cab to the nearby town of Mahahual. This was originally a tiny fishing village, then became a tourist spot. Got completely wiped out by a hurricane and rebuilt. But, it is still a very laid back little town. One street, with a second one being built. On one side of the “main drag” is a row of shops and cafes. The other side is a beautiful, nearly pristine beach. One of the prettiest in the Caribbean, in my book. We both had luxurious massages, lying on tables on a gorgeous beach, followed up by a swim in clear blue water….heavenly.
Did a little shopping, mostly looking for unusual Christmas gifts. They have expanded the compound to add a “downtown” section. Totally fake and filled with stores selling Mexican souvenirs. The sad thing is that all of it is leased or subcontracted to outside vendors. From a very selfish point of view, that’s fine, since it leaves Mahahual uncrowned and the vendors there will bargain heavily, trying to compete. But, it does seem wrong to take advantage of the locale and totally exclude the local population. It can no longer be a fishing village because of the big ships coming in, so the cruise lines have made the local dependent on tourism, then won’t allow them to sell things where most passengers go.
Day 5 was good old Cozumel. Used to be my favorite, but just so crowded now, with multiple ships each carrying a couple thousand passengers all converging on a smallish town. We docked close enough to downtown to just walk to the plaza, then hit a couple of favorite stores. Or tried to. One had disappeared. One minor annoyance was that most places now charge you to use their bathrooms. Given that you used to have to bring your own toilet paper, I thought that was ridiculous. Found one that did not charge. But, I was getting desperate enough to almost pay to pee. Still had a good, if low key, day.
Last day was a sea day. Rough seas again, although not as bad as the first day. We had enjoyed the deck band all week. A group called Xcite from Trinidad. Not your usual steel drums, but those guys could, and did, play anything.
Sadly, the show band was nowhere near as good. The trumpet player, whom I think was also the Music Director, could not play in tune. He even played in an entirely different key at times when they were playing in the Atrium. But, the entertainment in general engaged us. The first show was so-so to me. But, for the first time in years, I actually went to every show. And they just kept getting better and better. The show on the last night was amazing. Have not been thrilled by a cruise ship show in a long time and that was a great way to end the week. Tried to go up on deck for a last stroll looking at the stars and almost got blown off my feet! Very windy. But since we love just being at sea, that was fine, too.
Debarkation was fairly easy. You had to pick up your luggage tags by the purser’s desk. But, you could pick your color based on what time you wanted to debark. I liked being able to choose rather than have the cruise line decide when you should leave.
Last, I must mention our cabin steward, Alex. He was sheer perfection. Friendly, and very accommodating. Plus we rarely had to ask for anything, and when we did, we had it asap. But, I swear the man reads minds.
Overall, one of the best cruises in my life…out of around 35 cruises. Felt good to feel like we truly had a great vacation.