This has been submitted as a review, but hee it is for the impatient!
Star, Mexican Riviera 9/26/09
Minisuite #11662, 11666 and 11668. One interior 10655
About us: 50's retired professionals, not too fussy. We were travelling with 3 other couples, all seasoned travellers.
Booked: through our Personal Planner at NCL
Status: DH and I are gold, one couple silver, the others have cruised 3 times with NCL. We have all cruised with other lines.
This was the 35th cruise for us.
Arrival: We flew in the night before and stayed at the Holiday Inn LAX. We arranged with Super Shuttle to pick our group up at the hotel rather than returning to the airport. The additional cost was about $5/person. Transfer time was less than 30 minutes.
This was the Star's first sailing from LA since returning from Alaska. Two other ships were in port, including the Pearl, which created a fair amount of confusion for many travellers. The staff did not seem to have a good grasp of what procedure was and it seemed as though no on was in charge. We would be told to "go over there" only to be scolded by the "over there" people and sent back to person number one, etc, etc. Computers were not cooperating and while my reservation was fine it seemed to take quite some time for them to find my husband's, even though we were in the same reservation number.
Having said all that we were allowed to board promptly at noon and after passing through the obligatory (can't get past them) photos we were welcomed aboard with a glass of bubbly. We entered into the lobby and were able to leave our bags in the Carousel Lounge until rooms were ready. We made our way to the main dining room for a relaxing lunch and found the staff there completely surprised to have clients. No one had told them the ship had begun boarding, so we chatted away 15 minutes or so until the dining room was open. Lunch was quite nice and the dining room is so much more pleasant than the craziness of the buffet. Our waitress came around signing up guests for the jazz brunch the next morning and we decided to partake.
Cabins: Rooms were ready around 2:00. The rooms are spacious with more than ample storage for our needs. In the minisuite there is a bathtub, so that is a treat, and unlike some of the other ships with the sliding door configuration, the toilet area could actually accomodate a normal sized adult without discomfort.
There is a shaver plug in the bathroom but no other outlet. There is hand gel by the sink and shampoo and bath gel in the shower. There is also hand lotion and a bar soap.
The vanity area has a hair dryer and the outlet is in the desk area close to the balcony doors. The entire mini bar is in the refrigerator, which we removed to have room for the ice bucket and water bottles. There is a combination style safe which was sufficient for our needs but would not hold a lap top. There is a flat screen TV and the movies for the week were quite nice. It however, only carries CNN for news. The couch in the minisuite is a double bed size and there is one side chair for the desk. The bed was comfortable and the linens a good quality. There is a wonderful curtain between the sleeping and sitting area that is terrific if one partner wants to sleep while the other reads, etc.
The balcony had 1 reclining lounge chair, two side chairs with arms and a small table. We opened the partitions between the three balconies which made for easy visiting and pranks with our friends. These balconies are just aft of the buffet outcropping which means you can stand in the aft corner of the buffet and look down on these balconies. Not a problem for us but it might bother others. The cabins forward of ours have an overhang from the balcony which shields them from direct sun at mid day.
Public areas: The ship has a pleasing decor and is in good repair. The atrium is not as grand as some ships and has a large screen for viewing presentations and playing wii. The forward bar, the Spinnaker, is spacious and multilevel. It is used in the day for bingo and various meetings. It has a nice sized dance floor but only hosts a short amount of dance music each evening, giving way to game show amusement, etc later. It is a nice place to watch for whales and spend some quiet time - assuming someone isn't calling bingo in your ear.
The martini bar is around the curved bar from the Carousel where karaoke is held, so forget having your peacefull pre-dinner martini in either of those places. The Star bar is the only bar we found where you can actually have nice conversation with a view of the ocean. So many of the others have so much going on that it is actually a bit stressful to just be there.
The spa is my pet peeve NCL has added a wonderful thermal suite, which is accessible for a fee. That is fine, but they have added the use of the steam and sauna rooms to the pay to play suite. They are still in the dressing rooms but the spa staff will quite rudely inform you that they are for paying passengers only. I have not been a fan of onboard spas for many years, pretty much since they began running the spa as a consignment areas to Mandara or whoever Spas. The staff is always snooty but the Star takes the cake for downright rudeness. When I nicely asked at the desk if I had understood correctly that the sauna was only available for "paying" customers she hautily told me that was correct and if I didn't like it the complaint desk was on deck seven. I did go to the reception desk and voice my displeasure with this new change. The very nice receptionist called the spa manager, whom I could hear, and it became glaringly apparent where the spa staff get their bad attitudes. It really is surprising that an industry who goes to great lengths to be gracious to the guests have an entire division who seemingly delight in being obnoxious. Anyway . . . the spa seems to be laid out well and offers a variety of services from hair care, massages, tooth whitening, and acupuncture.
The gym hosts a nice arrangement of equipment and while I don't use the gym, my fellow cruisers do and were well pleased with the equipment and service.
Entertainment: We did not take in any of the shows, preferring to visit with friends, dance and gamble. The musicians we heard were quite good and except that they played sporatically (never knew what bar to find a group in or at what time) and the sets were short and there was limited dance area, it was nice. We enjoyed listening to the group Melodious Jones but they spent as much time talking as they did playing, and then it was break time. aaarrgh. As soon as they wrapped it up for the night, rather than another band they would have some sort of game show in the only lounge with a dance floor. We wound up dancing in the hallway one deck above where we could hear a band playing in the atrium. No logical sense of where things happen on this ship.
But if bingo is you're thing, then you're in luck. It is hosted twice a day in the Spinnaker Lounge. I think it is way overpriced but people play it by the hordes, so what do I know. The big "jackpot" bingos everyday never really happened because you had to make a blackout in 46 numbers or less, so if it took more numbers then it reverted to the daily amount. Quite misleading.
Shops: the shop area is nicely arranged and merges into one big shopping area which is less claustrophobic than some ships. I am not a shopper so I didn't spend any time there but it appeared they must have had lots to buy, given the crowds there whenever I passed by. The usual inch of gold, watch sale and $10 sales abounded and were held in the atrium.
Excursions: We did excursions in Mazatlan and PV with Mazatlan Frank and they were wonderful. In PV we also did Rhythms of the Night through NCL and it was a terrific excursion. It was dreadfully hot but still a very nice evening. I would recommend that you wear your coolest clothes and bring a fan. The food was mediocre but the desserts were fabulous! Cruising back to the ship in the dark and passing under our bow was quite nice.
Latitudes: The onboard consultant had several gatherings. He also was functioning as concierge to non-suite gold members, which meant we didn't really have concierge service. But he was nice enough. The silver/gold/plat party was in the Star Bar and well attended by officers who mingled and seemed interested in passenger input. the regular Latitudes party was on sea day #2 at 12:30 or so in the afternoon. A little champagne and rum punch, nothng fancy.
Dining: Let me say that I am not a fussy eater so the food quality was fine, considering this is a mass marketed ship. Do not expect gourmet food, even in the premium restaurants. We ate in the MDR most evenings but dined in La Trattoria one night - probably the best meal of the week, in Cagney's one night - definately the WORST meal and service of the week and did the Jazz brunch Sunday morning which was great. Cagneys - the entire meal took 3 1/2 hours during which time we had a 1 hour 15 minute break between appetizer and salad. 4 of our people never got their soup/salad and of 8, only 6 people had the correct entree. No one got their side dishes. Believe it or not after 3 1/2 hours we actually left before dessert - we just couldn't take it any more and went to the buffet for cheesecake or whatever. The maitre'd was unable to manage the two talbes of drunk women seated on either side of us - who were not only drunk but outraged that we had gotten our meals before them - holy moley, they must have been there since lunch! It was just awful and the steaks all got could have been had from any Outback/Roadhouse/Bonanza style restaurant. We did meet with the Food Service Manager the next day and he kindly comped our group dinner in the Endless Summer that night. Food was very nice, and service superb - but they all KNEW about our night before so they went out of their way to make it a special nice. I do think their advertising the free margaritas is embarrassing since they bring you a little 4 ounce (maybe) cup of beverage.
Casino: DH is a blackjack player and did well inspite of the continuous shufflers. $5 tables also have a 6/5 BJ payout. The poolside tables do not have auto shufflers but are not open very often. The slots were tight and service slow. Even bar service was hard to come by. Pretty odd for the casino but that's how it was. There was the usual assortment of table games including 3 Texas Hold 'em tables. Slots ranged from pennies on up. Not many poker machines and no nickel machines.
Internet: The cafe is quite nice with quite a few computers that all worked! time is expensive and was the slowest I ever remember. Those who had booked an excursion were given an additional 15 minutes free, which is good because on the final day it took me 14 minutes to connect! The internet manager was delightful and tried to be helpful but slow is slow. He tried to tell me that when it takes you so long to connect it does not come off your time but I watched my minutes closely and that was not true.
Disembarkation: What a mess. First, the list of tags did not coincide with all the tag colors they had distributed so there was a lot of confusion. Especially for VIPs w/ gold tags - that color was not listed and on some ships there is a meeting place for a concierge escort off the ship. This did not happen and many "goldies" were miffed. I do carry off myself, even though I had gold tags, but there were lots of confused disgruntled people wandering about. Again, like boarding, there was no one who seemed to know where to direct people to. I laughed when one girl was emphatically telling us we could not go "that" way when her boss was directly behind her waving us through. A line of sorts, had formed for self-disembarkers that would have become pure bedlam had not one gutsy lady barred the way toward the front and pointed people to the back of the line. A few others joined in and before long we had the situation under control. Needless to say, no crew was around. When the ship was finally cleared the computers wouldn't work to allow you to "ding" off the ship so they had to write your name and cabin no. on a piece of paper.
We did not have to clear immigration as we had in other ports, we just handed our declaration to an uninterested customs officer and went to catch our Super Shuttle van to the airport.
Overall: Good thing we got a good deal on this cruise. It is not a cruise I would consider taking again unless it was a real steal and I had airmiles. It was not the quality I have come to expect in NCL. I understand some of this may have been due to the change in itinerary and possible change of staff, but there were just too many times when it seemed no one knew what was going on. Maybe the guy who stayed at our Holiday Inn really was drving the boat!