We have just returned from a pier-side overnight on NCL’s new Norwegian Star… a special event for Travel Agents, Industry professionals and some of the trade press. I should begin by making one simple statement… Forget any preconceived notions you may have about NCL, its ships or Freestyle Cruising. This is the first purpose-built vessel specifically designed for NCL’s Freestyle concept and what a job they have done!
I don’t know what it is about the 90,000 gross registered ton ships but, for me at least, they seem to be just the perfect size. All of them, so far, have been winners. Celebrity’s Millennium Class vessels, the CostaAtlantica and Carnival Spirit, the Radiance of the Seas and now the Norwegian Star all seem to have achieved a perfect balance and efficient use of the extra tonnage (over the 70 somethings) without the excesses and loss of “ship feel” we see in the 100,000 plus monsters. The Norwegian Star is the latest of this size class and she exemplifies all that is excellent in new ship design.
First, some vital statistics… she’s 965 feet long, 105 feet breadth, is 91,000 gross registered tons, has a 28foot draft and a very respectable cruising speed of 25 knots. She meets Panamax standards and can transit the Canal, albeit with little room to spare. She accommodates 2240 passengers at double occupancy (an enviable space ratio, in her market, of 40.6) and has a crew of 1100… one crewmember for every two passengers… a respectable ratio indeed and one that shows itself in the excellent service levels found throughout the ship.
The public spaces on the ship are dramatic and surprisingly varied, with liberal use of fine wood veneers, subtle (and not so subtle) art deco touches in inside and outside spaces, one of the most interesting and attractively designed mid-ship pool areas I’ve seen on any ship (with striking lighting effects at night). One’s first impression of the Norwegian Star is surprisingly like one’s first exposure to the CostaAtlantica… it can verge on the “busy”, but as you see more of it “busy” becomes elegant and stylish… and the diverse cacophony of styles begins to work well.
The staterooms on the Norwegian Star, while not overly huge, are beautifully designed and superbly executed, again with liberal use of splendid cherry wood veneers. But let me tell you about the two Garden Villas. I have never seen anything quite like them, on any ship. I used to think that the Penthouse Suites on the Millennium class vessels were the ultimate accommodations in the Premium Brands… but, the Garden Villas make them look like minimum insides! They are quite unlike anything on any other vessel today… a steel and glass structure on top of the ship, aft of the main sundeck. Each of the two span almost 5,350 square feet! They are opulent fantasy-world suites, each with a large living room, dining room, three separate bedrooms, entertainment center and luxury bath with whirlpool tub and separate shower. In addition to panoramic views of the ocean, each villa opens up to a roof-top terrace and private garden featuring open-air dining, Jacuzzis and totally private sunning and relaxation areas. They are remarkable spaces that command a very high tariff, made almost affordable by their comfortable capacity of 6 people. You can entertain over 100 of your closest on board friends in the garden area. It is huge and inviting. Of course, Butler service is included.
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For the rest of us mere mortals, the Norwegian Star offers an attractive array of accommodations to meet any taste and pocketbook. Seventy per cent of her cabins are Ocean View and seventy per cent of those have verandas. She offers thirty-six suites, 372 standard staterooms with balconies, and an entire deck of 107 mini-suites with balconies…spacious and well-appointed. Bathrooms are room and feature separate WC, shower and washstand compartments separated by sliding doors. Each stateroom has a safe, refrigerator/mini bar and hair dryer. Lots of drawers and closet space and a coffee and tea maker round out these lovely staterooms.
I began this report by pointing out that the Norwegian Star was purpose built for Freestyle Dining. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the 10 (count them… 10) different restaurants offering passengers a superb selection of dining venues. And, they are all beauties, with enticing menu’s. Here’s the list:
Versailles - an ornate first main dining room, offering the traditional six-course cruise dining experience.
Aqua – a contemporary-styles second main dining room, offering a lighter modern menue
The Soho Room – a high-end Pacific Rim restaurant featuring a fusion of Californian, Hawaiian and Asian cuisine
Ginza – a Japanese restaurant featuring an a la carte section, a sit-up sushi and tempura bar and a teppanyake room
LeBistro – NCL’s trademark French restaurant featuring nouvelle cuisine and French classics
Blue Lagoon- a food court sysle casual eatery featuring hamburgers, fish & chips, pot pies and wok fast dishes
Market Café - an indoor/outdoor buffet restaurant extending over a third of a deck in including trademark “action stations” featuring prepared-to-order omelets, waffles, fruit, soups, ethnic specialties and pasta
Las Ramblas Tapas Bar & Restaurant – a Spanish Tapas restaurant and bar with a full selection of hot and cold Tapas dishes and authentic entertainment
LaTrattoria – an Italian restaurant serving pasta, pizza and other popular Italian fare
Endless Summer – a Hawaiian-themed restaurant arranged around the second level of the central atrium and incorporating a performance stage and a large movie screen
The Grill – a 24-hour buffet-style eatery offering hamburgers and hot dogs, soups and salads and California-style pizza.
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Clearly, there is no shortage of dining venues and they are attractive and well staffed. The menu’s are varied and enticing. You will not go hungry on the Norwegian Star. Some of these restaurants make a modest service charge.
Also offered are two golf driving ranges, volleyball and basketball court, a two-deck fitness and spa center with cardiovascular workout equipment, aerobic and boxercise area, steam and sauna, jet-current exercise pool and whirlpool and hydrotherapy facilities. There’s even the longest indoor lap pool on any cruise ship, about 40 feet long and 13 feet wide.
For families, the ship offers a huge children’s center complete with a playroom, outdoor pool, movie theater, computer rooms, teen center, video arcade, a nursery and toddlers’ nap room. There is even a special children’s area in the buffet restaurant with their own low-level serving counter and kid-sized tables and chairs!
For the record, there are no less than 12 Lounges and Bars… including an Internet Café, a rollicking English pub and a Bier Garten featuring an assortment of excellent beers and Bavarian food specialties. The ship’s main theater, The Stardust Theater spans three decks and is designed in traditional European opera house style. Sight lines are excellent and it is a strikingly beautiful entertainment venue.
The list goes on and on. Conspicuously missing… a Casino… not permitted by Hawaii state law for ships sailing round trip out of a Hawaii port. (Curiously, slot machines and tables were loaded on last night. They set up a temporary casino for the two one night sailings (the 15th and 16th. They’ll be removed before the ships sets out on its positioning voyage next week.
Negatives… well… yeah… a small one. Someone high up in NCL must have issued an edict requiring every member of the crew to say or shout “Aloha” at (to?) every passenger they meet, day or night, no matter where. At first it is disconcerting… then it becomes funny… in short order it can be annoying. Ok… give an aloha as folks embark. Maybe an aloha when you leave the ship at a port… but…stow the aloha… pleeeeze! If this is the worst complaint I could find about this gorgeous vessel… well, I suppose it proves something.
If Hawaii is your “cup of tea”, you’d be hard pressed to find a more enchanting way to see it than on board the Norwegian Star… shinning and twinkling and offering a first rate cruise experience on one superb ship!