OK…here we go. This is the official SakeDad review of the NCL Star Repositioning Cruise from LA to Vancouver on April 24, 2008.
I originally booked USAir from Vegas through Phoenix to Long Beach to avoid LAX. But there was a flight next to us in Vegas non-stop to LAX and we were able to get upgraded to First Class. Mom had never been in first class. So we got to LAX about 3 hours before we were scheduled to get to Long Beach. As we were only doing carry-on we went straight to the shuttles and got a PrimeTime Shuttle to San Pedro. It was an adventure as he zipped down the freeway at 85 mph but we were there by 10:00am and it only cost $32.00 for 2 people. Check-in finally began at 11:20am and we were one of the first in line. It does pay to be there early as they board in groups and we were Group 1. We boarded the ship at noon.
Having read these boards I KNEW to avoid the buffet like the NoroVirus! We headed straight to the Versailles Room at the aft where no one was waiting. We actually had to wait until 12:30p for them to open for lunch. We had a very good, relaxing lunch and waited for our cabins to be ready at 1:20pm. We met some of our CC group while there and it was a great way to start the trip. I had the quiche, cold banana soup and BBQ ribs. All excellent.
Once they announced our cabin was ready we went upstairs to Deck 10 (another reason to eat in Versailles as we only had to take the elevator to be near our aft cabin 10730). The cabin was MUCH smaller than Mom & I are used to as we had Jr Suites on Monarch of the Seas and a SA Suite on HAL’s Noordam. However, once we unpacked and put the bags away and staked out “our space” we realized the massive balcony more than made up for a small cabin. There was a chaise lounge, another chair that would recline and a small table.
BTW, I had never read here that there is a light at the back of the closet, look for the red “on” button. Also, there were 2 extra pillows in there.
I went to the Spa to see if I wanted to purchase the extra package. I got a tour a realized the steam room and sauna are free. I knew I wouldn’t swim as I was on an “eat & drink anything” weekend and wouldn’t want to exercise. They have chaises at the aft of the pool area but they also have free ones by the treatment rooms you can use with the same aft view. However since I had an aft balcony one deck below and it was private I knew I would not make use of the package. Also, since the chaises were simply wooden ones and NOT thermal loungers like HAL there was nothing I felt I needed to pay extra for. Mom bought it so she could swim and really enjoyed it, so it is worth checking out for some. Mom actually liked the hydro pool on NCL better than HAL as it had rubber on the bars under you and you don’t slip.
At 3:45 we had muster drill. This was a slow process, as usual, but made even slower when they had 2 medical emergencies. So we started hearing “Code Alpha, Code Alpha, Code Alpha, Deck 7, Y3” over and over until we heard “Code Alpha cleared”. Probably just a few folks tripping over their own feet. Muster lasted about 30 mins.
Our Anniversary/Romance Package arrived. It was 5 chocolate covered strawberries and sparkling wine plus the info on dining at Le Bistro.
So now it’s time to start exploring the ship and getting to know her. MBPrincess had invited me to their Owner’s Suite to take pictures before they messed it up partying! They had a lovely Bon Voyage package. The cabin was decorated and they had cake and champagne. The cabin was wonderfully spacious and colorfully decorated (think bordello meets the high seas!) The bathroom was great as well. Thanks, Catherine, for letting me in. Oh, I discovered if you want to open the partitions on the balconies you simply need a coffin key. Now off to see more of the ship!
I discovered the Carousel Bar and that they have Soho Lychee Liqueur…one of my FAVES!! (they have this is all bars) So I ordered a Lychee Saketini and knew vacation had started! I carried my martini and explored. The pools opened, the BBQ had started and the ship was getting ready to sail! We had a planned CC Sail-Away party in the Bier Garten and got a table. I had my martini eyeglasses and Mom had her margarita eyeglasses. We were a HIT and easy for folks to spot us! It was a lot of fun as we had about 10 people.
Mom & I decided to eat at Aqua the first night. We got right in and had a table by the window. It’s a beautiful room. I had the Marinated Roasted Pineapple, Chilled Peach Soup and Cooking Light Jerk Style Chicken. Mom had the Cooking Light Potato & Fennel Soup and the Grilled Mahi-Mahi and we shared the Madras Vegetable Curry. The pineapple was supposed to be in a mojito sauce but I couldn’t taste ANY mint in it, but there was a subtle rum taste. However the coconut cream on top tasted more like imitation whipped cream. The chilled peach soup was fabulous with pecans. A taste of the South. The potato leek soup was good and very light. Mom also had the salad with Roquefort and Sherry/Walnut dressing. Good but it stayed with your breath for quite some time! The chicken was OK and the Mahi-Mahi was great! The madras was also very good. I had the Cooking Light Sugar Free Coconut Cheesecake and it was light and tasty. One side note…the couple next to me had the International Cheese Platter and I would have been embarrassed to serve it at my house! It was a couple of slices of brie, cheddar, provolone, a couple of grapes, some celery (???) and SALTINES!!! Are they kidding???!!?? It looked like a cheese platter you’d buy at 7-11 on the way to work. Not pretty.
Now it was time to go to the Star Bar for the first Friends of Dorothy meeting. For those who don’t know, this is where any GLBT (Gays & Lesbians and their friends) onboard can meet and make new friends. Most lines have them. Several folks showed and it was a nice group. We had FOD meetings every night and I commend NCL for these. We had a nice core group of friends to hang with in addition to the CC group.
Time to go to the showroom for their “Welcome Aboard” show. It basically had all the acts onboard do a number or two and tell you where you could find them throughout the cruise. Jana Seale and Sean Burns were real standouts as singers and performers. The comedian Peter Sasso was very funny. The Jean Ann Ryan ensemble were Ok was well. One note…JAR is going to be leaving all NCL ships. NCL is going to produce all their own shows as soon as the JAR contracts end. It’s already happened on several ships.
So off to the cabin to change and put my camera away and PARTY!!!!! Had lots of fun at several of the bars. Oh, I had actually emailed Sean Burns through his MySpace website a few weeks ago saying I was going to be onboard. I never heard back and forgot about it. As I was walking through the Red Lion Pub he was performing and I hear “NATHAN” shouted out over the PA in the middle of the song! He recognized me and had been looking for me. Very surreal and very fun! It was a good contact and he is one of the most amazing NOT TO BE MISSED performers around!
When I got to the cabin I tried to set a wake up but it wouldn’t accept, I ended up called reception. Also, I couldn’t order room service breakfast as there was no form in our cabin.
Slept good, woke up with a bit of a hang-over, turned the coffee pot on and ordered more coffee and OJ from room service, it came pretty quick. Went out to get breakfast. The buffet was very busy but when I went to the pool and they had the same food it was a pleasure to see no lines! So I had a nice, quiet breakfast of Eggs Benedict, sausage and tomatoes.
As it was MUCH colder and windier today there was no one in the pool or using any of the chaises. Where are the famous Chair Hogs??? Well, no picture of them this cruise, I guess. I walked around the ship taking more pictures (surprise, surprise!) and discovered the bridge view from behind the curtain in the Spinnaker Lounge that folks on CC had mentioned.
At 11:30am we had the CC Meet-n-Greet scheduled in the NY & London Conference Rooms. NCL had done a GREAT job of providing loads of pastries, coffee, hot tea, water and juice. We only had about 15 people show but it was fun. We had 5 Officers show (F&B, Hotel, CD Ricky Matthews and Engineering) and they apologized for having to be very brief as they were extremely busy. They told us that 2.0 will be happening on the Star the week of May 3-10, so if you’re on that sailing it could be very interesting. You could have one bed one day and a brand new one the next!
Got back to the cabin and our steward, Victor, didn’t restock the coffee packs or leave a room service order form. I had to ask for both. Also, apparently the NCL Star doesn’t do towel animals….BOO HOO!
Mom & I split up for the afternoon and I went to Versailles for lunch. I wanted to keep it light as we were having dinner that night in Le Bistro. I ordered the Chilled Watercress Soup and the Chicken Souvlaki Salad. They were both delicious and light. I had a perfect window seat and there was no wait.
There was a Martini Tasting at 3:45pm so off for that. They had a Classic Gin (or Vodka) Martini, Cosmopolitan, Sour Apple and Espresso Martinis for $15. This is great if you don’t know how to make martinis and want BASIC. But the ones on Hal had made unique and fun martinis compared to these. Also, and anyone who enjoys martinis will be SHOCKED by this, they didn’t use martini glasses!!! They used basic, unpretty rocks glasses! Oh well, this is why they have a reputation for the mass market mentality. But afterwards Beth gave them the recipe for her Beth-mo Martini and it was FANTASTIC!!! We had a few more of those later in the Carousel Bar. By the end of the sailing all the bartenders had the recipe!
That afternoon the canapés were delivered from the Romance Package. They were shrimp, salmon roe, brie, salmon and ham on toast points and some grapes and one strawberry. Pretty but I was rushing for dinner at Le Bistro and never even tried them. Mom had some later and said they were OK.
We had reservations for Le Bistro for the Romance Package. This turned out to be the BEST meal and service of the entire trip! Our waiter was Juniser and he was perfect! I actually tipped $15 for dinner, the ONLY time I tipped extra the entire trip. The maitre’d told me that all extra tips are NOT pooled and do indeed go directly to the tipped server. I’m hoping he was telling the truth. I had the Lobster and Scallop Martini with Cauliflower Mousse…wonderfully light and tasty. I then had a double serving of Escargot, nice and tender but a bit salty. But I still enjoyed them and Mom even tried her first one. I had the Chilled Watercress Veloute Soup with Frog leg Meat and Mom had the Onion Soup au Gratin. Both were wonderfully light and the Onion soup was NOT salty as so many are. Mom ordered the Canard (duck) a l’Orange which was flambéed tableside and I had the Supreme of Corn Fed Chicken aux Morilles. It was stuffed, moist and delicious. We both had the Crème Brulee and enjoyed the entire dinner immensely! I can’t recommend it enough. But I will say we had early reservations and the later it got the busier the wait staff was and they had less time to spend. So I would suggest an extremely early or very late dinner there to get the best service you can.
Off to another FOD meeting in the Star Bar and watch the sunset, then off to the showroom for the JAR “Music of the Night” show. Basically an Andrew Lloyd Webber reprise show. Not very exciting as I am NOT an ALW fan, but the singers were talented and it was a decent show. I met up with the Technical Director, Shawn, after the show to discuss working for NCL and get “the real dirt”. We got along great and I got some really good information. He offered to give us a backstage tour the next day. Oh, someone won $2,000.00 on the pull tabs before the show.
I then went to the Red Lion Pub to catch Sean Burn’s show and was not disappointed. Not wanting to give away his style I’ll just say he’s VERY FUN and I hope his liver lasts until you can get onboard to see him! I partied the night away, danced in the Carousel Lounge until 3am, made lots of new friends and went to bed!
Woke up feeling better today (I stuck to Cajun Martinis so I didn’t get a hangover) The seas are very calm today. The weather is less windy and feels warmer. Everyone is very surprised how calm the seas are as we head north.
I head to the buffet and have a large breakfast. The food was good, it’s breakfast, what do you want? I spent the day wondering the ship, running into friends, having cocktails, relaxing and taking MORE pictures! Had a light buffet lunch of chilled fruit soup, Tandoori Chicken (YUM!) sautéed mushrooms and a fish cake (not that great). At 3:00pm it was time for a margarita tasting in Endless Summer. $15 for 4 margarita types. As I was disappointed in yesterdays martini tasting glassware I chose the margaritas. They were good, cold and refreshing. I had the backstage tour scheduled for 4:00pm so Mom, Beth and Bill met me there. Shawn gave us the tour. I have only seen the backstage area of RCCL Monarch of the Seas which was TINY! NCL actually planned the backstage area here pretty well with large dressing rooms (although a bit far from the stage), a good fly system and other areas bigger than RCCL. While there were also a few design flaws it was very interesting to see and we were grateful for the chance. Beth & I are both Theatrical Stage Managers, Bill is a Lighting Designer and Mom has done Wardrobe for some shows here in Vegas, so we really enjoyed seeing all this. THANKS SHAWN AND CREWMOM!!!
We didn’t have dinner reservations for anywhere as we didn’t know what we wanted. We headed to Versailles when they opened but the line was through the Blue Lagoon so we headed off to see what else we could find. All the other places couldn’t get us in until 8:30pm to 9:00pm and it was only 5:30pm. We headed back to Versailles and were pleasantly surprised to see there was no longer a line. We got right in and had dinner. Mom’s was good but I was really disappointed tonight!! I had the Cured Salmon Tartar which was decent and Mom had the Goat Cheese & Potato Gratin, again decent. We both had the Chilled Black Cherry Soup with Vanilla Genoise & Kirsch Cream. Mom liked hers but I didn’t like mine at all. She had the Pecan Crusted Snapper over Gumbo which was excellent. I had the English Cut Strip Loin with Yorkshire Pudding. I was EXTREMELY DISAPPOINTED with this meal. I expected a nice cut of strip steak but it was just cut up prime rib meat. The meat was OK but a little fatty. The Yorkshire Pudding was HARD and tough…..but here’s the most disappointing thing to me….for vegetables they had peas & carrots!! I don’t mean a nice array of peas & carrots with a nice sauce; I mean peas and carrots like you get in an elementary school cafeteria! WOW! Again, just another case of NCL appealing to the masses. This is what I meant earlier when I said there were hits & misses…this one missed. Mom had Trifle for dessert. It was light and tasty, but no lady fingers.
I went to the Second City show in the showroom. This was the last show for them on the Star until Mexico. A music tribute show of some sort is replacing them for Alaska. They were funny and the crowd enjoyed them. Afterwards was the “This is your crew” show were all the departments line up on the stage. Every cruise line does this one.
More partying all night long for me! Went to bed around 4:00am!!!!
I woke up around 7:00am as we were just pulling into Vancouver Harbor. I could see land outside the open balcony door so I grabbed the camera and went out just before we went under the bridge. I really enjoyed the aft balcony as there was constantly something new coming into view. It was a beautiful, peaceful morning as we sailed in. I think I would be equally happy on an aft in Alaska, the Caribbean or anywhere else.
Mom & I planned on staying onboard as long as possible. We weren’t scheduled to leave until 10:40am which was fine with us. I had room service delivered and stayed in the cabin until we were tied up. I packed and showered and headed out to explore the ship one last time. All the THOUSAND or so folks scheduled for Express Disembarkation were lined up and NOT looking happy as it wasn’t moving very fast. The lines went from the Starboard doors by the reception area on 7 all the way through the Blue Lagoon, through the aft hallway, back through the Red Lion on Port and through reception and back toward mid-ship!!!! WOW! So I was very happy to not be in the mix and to be able to relax. I saw several friends and said my good-byes as Mom took a nap in the room. We were called at 10:40am and were through security and out the door by 11:10am! There wasn’t even a line to get to the doors to exit the ship! Nice and quick….TIP….in Vancouver if you disembark on the Starboard side choose the immigration line on the left as the one on the right snakes and turns and is where the handicapped in wheelchairs bypass you.
We did the on-and-off trolley tour with Vancouver Trolley Company (you can catch them just outside Canada Place) and really enjoyed it! It was a great way to see the entire city including Stanley Park. It’s 2 ½ hours roundtrip from Canada Place if you don’t get off but you can explore any areas you like and continue on all day. It was $35.00CAD per person ($32.00 senior/student) our guide was Sandy. She had been a local bus driver for 30 years and was very knowledgeable and a great driver. Unfortunately it started raining as we got back to Canada Place so we didn’t go back to any of the neighborhoods and explore like we had hoped to do. We just had a very nice lunch at the microbrewery near the pier before retrieving our luggage and taking a cab to the airport.
Some final, random thoughts in no particular order as I go through my notes: Blue Lagoon had a pesticide smell most of the sailing.
Wine tasting in Soho looked like it was going to be very nice based on set-up but I didn’t do it.
We used the luggage storage in YVR which was $4-5.00 per bag and you could have up to 4 bags transferred to the airport for an additional $15.00CAD if you wanted.
The cab from Canada Place to the airport was $30.75CAD for 2 and took about 25 minutes.
USAir counter in YVR doesn’t open until 4:30pm as none of the airlines will check you in until 3 hours before departure.
The “DJ” in the Carousel Bar the 2nd night was NOT very good as he was also the showroom lighting guy….not a real DJ.
They shut the Carousel Bar down even though about 20 people were still dancing and having fun on the last night.
Blue Lagoon ran out of some food on the last night even though they stayed open. I was not impressed with the chicken wings as they were over fried and hard. But that may have just been because it was late and the last night.
There was a table every day in Endless Summer to make dinner reservations….we never had a problem doing this and they even changed our Le Bistro reservations when I needed to.
I heard some people complaining they thought is was hard to navigate the ship. There are a few places where passenger access ends and you have to go to the other side of the ship to continue. I got caught more than once on the Port side in the buffet trying to go from forward to aft.
The steam room had mold, peeling paint on the seats and caulking coming up from the floor. The sauna light was out from the 2nd day on. The steam room and sauna are NOT left on at night so they are not usable until about an hour after the Spa opens so they can heat up.
There is cold water in the room aft of the spa by the treatment rooms. You can take this into the sauna/steam area if you want cold water in there.
Extra spa package was $20.00 a day.
Stardust Showroom seats were very comfortable and the theatre doesn’t seem to have any sightline problems that I could see.
There are 3 showers in the men’s spa area you can easily use to get ready if your spouse or roommate wants to use the cabin shower at the same time.
Jana Seale is on vacation as of 4/27/08 (don’t know how long).
I did not play in the casino as I live in Vegas and felt if I was sitting at a machine I’d be missing everything else on the boat!
I thought all the cocktails were a reasonable price compared to on-land prices. I got bottles of Alderbrook Chardonnay for $32.00 and had them for dinners in the dining rooms. I thought it was a decent wine for the price.
So to wrap up the review…..All in all we enjoyed the trip a lot. The repo cruise is fun because the ship is your main port. I guess anything with 3 or 4 sea days in a row would feel the same but I liked having lots of time to just explore the ship and relax. The crew was mixed, some were OK and not very friendly while others were very nice and always smiled and greeted you. This is NOT a luxury ship and neither is the crowd that travels them, but you also aren’t paying a luxury price so you DO get what you pay for here. Would I sail NCL again? Probably not unless they had an itinerary I wanted and no one else did AND I could get a great deal on an aft BA or a suite. I prefer the spoiling that HAL does of passengers, but that’s me. There is no reason NOT to go on NCL if you’re looking for a fun, inexpensive cruise line. Just don’t expect to be spoiled. Of course, I think a lot of this depends on what your everyday life is like. Mom says she’ll never cruise again without an aft balcony and I tend to agree. We absolutely LOVED being out there watching the wake & leaving the door open all night as we listened to the white noise of the wake. Also, the one day it was cold and windy on deck it was warm and NO WIND on the balcony as I laid in the sun on the chaise lounge.
You can see my pics at the link below. Feel free to ask any questions and I’ll try to ask them. Thanks for ALL your help preparing for the cruise and for reading this LONG review