Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star by DougMacP Mexico February 5, 2006
Before I booked the cruise I had concerns. Can a person who loves mid-size ships and "traditional" cruising find happiness going "freestyle" on a large ship? Am I going to miss the set dinner hours and the security of knowing with whom I'm dining each night? Will the service be impersonal and reservations impossible to come by? Will the food in the specialty restaurants be worth the extra money? If you like a review that is one paragraph long the answers are: yes, no, no and definitely yes. If you interested in more detail, read on.
I've done just under 20 cruises on the major standard, premium and several of the luxury cruise lines. On my last two cruises with Holland America and Celebrity I ended up changing tables because of (how does one say this nicely?) less than desirable tablemates. That is the risk with traditional cruising; bad assigned tablemates can make a cruise a miserable experience. While it's not the end of the world to move tables, I always felt sort of guilty about it, hiding from the people atmy former table the best I could the rest of the cruise. With freestyle I theorized I could control my own destiny, and that of my friend who was a first time cruiser.
Embarkation: 40 minutes from drop off to opening the stateroom door. NCL doesn't do the complete check in at the pier. You are allowed to board by group number into the ship where your credit card information is obtained, picture taken and cruise card is given. There is a bit of a musical chairs quality to this arrangement in reverse. The quicker you get up from where you're seated when your group number is called the closer to the front of the line you'll be. Tip: If you have e-docs and didn't receive luggage tags make sure you get the luggage tags from the pier personnel curb side first thing. Have pre-printed stick-on labels with your name and address so all you have to do is write your stateroom number on the tag.
Cabin: Balcony cabin on deck 10. I enjoyed the cabin very much with a few minor issues. It was attractive, well maintained and comfortable. The beds were great and I appreciated the duvets instead of the usual top sheet and blankets. The closets however are bizarre. It is a two door arrangement that gives you a larger hanging area but to access the shelves you have to literally get down on your knees, move any hanging clothes out of the way and reach around the side. I much prefer the three door arrangement where the middle door is the location of the safe and shelves. If you don't know about the closet light (located in the back behind the closet rod) it would be an impossible arrangement, especially because there are only three other drawers in the cabin.
The cabins seem to have soundproofing issues. Perhaps it was because we were blessed with amazingly loud neighbors with children above and beside us. If you leave the balcony door open, be prepared to hear everything! Beyond that, the stateroom creaks and groans (probably from the ceiling panels) which can be quite annoying at night. Tip: Bring ear plugs.
Public Areas: The Star is a big ship, no doubt about that, a true floating resort. The lack of a unifying ship theme troubled me at first, but I soon discovered that if you aren't in a public room to your liking, just keep moving and you'll find one. There are some beautiful rooms and lounges on the ship, covering almost all design themes. The longer the cruise went on, the more I appreciated the diversity of styles. I also loved the full outside promenade on deck 7, something sadly designed out of other modern cruise ships.
What I didn't appreciate is the pool deck. The two humungous water slides absolutely dominate the area. Not only are they unattractive, but they don't work! There isn't enough water flow or steepness for anyone other than the kids to use them. Trust me, I tried. I ended up crawling down one half of the way. The visual impact and atmosphere of the pool area would be greatly enhanced if they were removed. The other gripe is lack of "prime" sun lounging areas. Part of the problem is that they use the entire main deck area by the pool for table and chairs, instead of lounges. Another problem is that many passengers (for lack of a better word) "hog" the chairs. They'll lie in the sun for an hour or two but leave the towels there all day in case they want to come back later. Many cruise lines handle this by having the deck staff promptly remove the towels unless other personal items (bags, books, etc.) are left with them. I think this would solve a lot of problems, since it's easier to train the staff then to teach the guests manners.
Entertainment: There are three types of entertainment on a ship. Production shows, headliners, and lounge acts. Having worked with a production company in Vegas in the past I learned long ago not to expect too much from the entertainment on a ship, any ship. "Entertainment" is a relative concept, if you think you'll be seeing a Vegas or Broadway quality show, a famous headliner, or you'll catch a rising star in the lounge, you'll only be disappointed. With that said, overall I was very impressed with the Star. When it comes to shipboard entertainment, NCL knows its business.
The usual cruise ship production show is heavily lip synced with choreography so amateurish it would work if the ship was in the process of capsizing. Not the case here. The first show Music of the Night, the tribute to Andrew Lloyd Weber was very entertaining, well sung and danced. The second show "It's Fame" ended up being cancelled half through both shows due to technical issues. What was presented was extremely well done. The last show Cirque Pacific was my least favorite. While I enjoyed the Chinese acrobats very much, the "flying numbers" were done a death defying 10 feet above the stage (gosh!) and the Jean Ann Ryan Company dance numbers looked something like Tai-Kwon-Do meets Jazzercise. In this case less would have been more, just focus on the acrobats. Since it was the night before the end of the cruise they also bring out the Captain and fill the stage with crew members for an inane pandering tribute to themselves about how wonderful they made your cruise experience. Obviously, I was not moved to tears.
Also in the main showroom are the obligatory comic and magician (which I missed) and for our cruise the cabaret performer was Lorna Luft, the daughter of Judy Garland, and the far less frantic and famous half sister of Liz Minnelli. She did an abbreviated version of her club act without the benefit of photo and video clips.
NCL really seems to appreciate and understand lounge acts. From the bands to piano players the quality of the performers was surprisingly good. I won't name names, just wander around and I'm sure you'll find a room and a performer you enjoy.
Dining: NCL is a standard line, with an average outside cabin costing less than $100 per day per person for this cruise. To expect anything other than mass market cruise cuisine is not realistic. In the end, you get what you pay for. But for $15 to $25 per day more you can have a completely different experience. When it came to the specialty restaurants, the Star shines brightly (pun intended). In fact, the dinners were better then on luxury cruises for which I paid more than $300 per day. Shortly after boarding I set up reservations at Le Bistro, Teppanyaki (at Ginza) Soho and Cagney's for consecutive days. We ended up repeating Ginza twice and did Le Bistro one more time. Each of these restaurants greatly exceeded my expectations for service, food and presentation in a relaxed yet elegant atmosphere. We did have one dinner in the Versailles room, where the food and service was surprising good, certainly comparable with Holland America and Celebrity.
We ate most of our breakfasts and lunches at the Market CafÃ©, which is the buffet restaurant on deck 12. The food was perfectly acceptable as far as variety, taste and freshness. The Market CafÃ©'s problem is the layout. The CafÃ© runs the full length on the starboard (right) side, but only half the way on the port, therefore there really isn't enough space to accommodate the number of people who utilize the room without cramming tables everywhere. It is not a classy room by any stretch of the imagination and the tables and chairs are rather unattractive. Make sure to check out the buffets when they are set up pool side, they have great chicken and ribs.
Service: The service staff on the Star is multi-cultural, with Asians and Eastern Europeans being in the majority in the restaurants and lounges. In days gone by some cruise lines would brag that their service staff was predominately Filipino's (technically Asian in these politically correct times), who came from a "culture of service". That sort of smiling, gracious and familiar service became the expectation of cruise passengers, and appears to exist to this day. Now you add into the mix Eastern Europeans, who approach service in a less familiar and more formal way. To many they come off as unsmiling, aloof and generally stern. Even when they do their cruise line jobs well, the passengers never warm up to them. I certainly agree with a recent review I read about the Star, what passengers may think as "spotty" service, in reality may just be the cultural difference. It was certainly my experience aboard this cruise. My only minor complaint about "service" had to do with the lounges. Be prepared to say "no thank you" a lot if you don't want a drink. Since the servers roam the various lounges instead of having a set service area you are constantly being asked if you want a beverage, even if you just ordered one from another server. It really bugged me at first, but after awhile I got used to just saying no.Ports: We booked after Acapulco was dropped from the itinerary and were actually grateful about that. With all the recent news reports about gang wars, drive by shootings and general deterioration of the city many passengers felt the same way, besides I've been to Acapulco a number of times both by land and sea. NCL offered what I thought were some good and reasonable priced excursions in all the ports, although generally you can always do better at the pier or in town price wise, with the possible exception Manzanillo which does not have organized tourist facilities like the other ports. Personally, I always do my own research before I leave. If you haven't checked it out www.portreview.com do so, it's a wonderful site
Manzanillo: At first glance the downtown looks tiny, but like the tip of an iceberg most of it is hidden from view. I really enjoyed walking into town and exploring the back streets and shops. Manzanillo is a working port town and has one of the highest standards of living and lowest crime rates in Mexico. You are not assaulted by vendors, or children trying to sell "Chiclets". Speaking a few words of Spanish really helps here, as the town has not gone gaga for tourists (yet). Don't get me wrong, the people are friendly, it's just your not the center of their universe. Since NCL does not have recommended vendors here (meaning merchants who pay kickbacks) the Port Guide they provide is completely lacking.
Puerto Vallarta: I've been to PV more than 10 times, including an extended land based vacation last year. For "beach time" skip the large chain hotels, and head to Playa Los Muertos (beach) in the old section of town also know as the Romance Zone. If you tell the taxi driver to drop you off at the El Dorado Restaurant you'll be in the heart of things. Just walk up the beach until you find a spot you like, and then let the café personnel know you want to chair. For the cost of some drinks or food you can have a beach chair under a palapa (umbrella) and the best people watching in PV.
Mazatlan: On my perpetual least favorite Mexican resort town list. It doesn't have the sophistication, visual impact and beach environment PV has, or the shopping and glitzy newness of Cabo. Unless you're looking for diamonds or gemstones skip the tiny over-hyped "Golden Zone". Tour old town in one of the cute open air taxi's and save your shopping for the facility right next to the pier. You can get everything there that you could get in town, and actually at better prices.
Cabo: The only trouble with Cabo is time, or lack thereof. On almost every cruise I've been on the ship has to leave by 2pm to get back to the States. Therefore, Cabo is always a bit of a "rush." The most Americanized of the Ports, in the Marina area you'll swear you're in Southern California (is that a good thing?), complete with a Mall.
Cruise Staff and Activities: The Star offers the usually barrage of shipboard activities from Bingo to Trivia hosted by a very competent and charming cruise staff. If you were bored on this cruise you were: (1) anti social, (2) traveling with the wrong person(s), or (3) in need of anti-depressant medication. Make sure to check out the interactive Live at Five call-in show with the Cruise Director, it's a hoot.
Fellow Passengers: The whole gambit, from new born babies to the so to be departed, sophisticated travelers to drunken louts, chiseled fitness enthusiasts to enormous buffet junkies. Truly a bit of everything and everyone.
Disembarkation: No need to be out of your cabin at 8:00am like the old days, NCL continues to have a very urbane process for re-entering the world. You can stay in your cabin until your luggage tag color is called then you proceed to the designated lounge where you "clear" customs on the ship, instead of at the Pier. This eliminates the risk of being late off the ship because a person not of US citizenship doesn't understand announcements and cannot be located, because under the "Pier" system all non US residents were required to clear customs before any US citizens could disembark. While the itinerary said we wouldn't arrive in Long Beach until 9:00am, we actually were off the ship by then in plenty of time for our flight at 11:20am.
In the end: Every time I fill out the little survey cards you get the day before the end of the cruise I always come to the same conclusion; the complete experience is more than the sum of it's parts. Things can be less than perfect yet I still thoroughly enjoy myself. In the end it won't matter that a port got changed, or the waitperson trying to anticipate my every need didn't look completely thrilled while doing it. That's all small stuff. The big stuff is about completely relaxing and savoring the moment. The freedom of Freestyle dinning, and the quality of the specialty restaurants was the highlight of the cruise for me. This "traditional" mid-size ship lover couldn't help but appreciate the product the Star offered, and I'm certainly not complaining about the price.DougMacP@aol.com
Embarkation We were to depart at the San Pedro port in Los Angeles. The embarkation process on this cruise was the worst I have ever encountered. >From start to finish it took about two hours. Some NCL officials were going around telling people they must get a porter to take all their bigger luggage before checking in. However, neither the NCL reps nor the porters were very proactive in helping people get their big luggage out of their hands.
Cabin We booked a room on Deck 11 with a balcony, mid-ship. It was a decent sized room with relatively ample living space. The typical amenities were there: coffee machine, hair dryer, safe, small fridge, and a very small TV. There is a drawer with two shelves. Also, there is a decent sized closet with more shelf space inside. However, the shelf space in the closet is rather hard to get to, since you literally have to be inside the closet to grab your stuff.
Dining Rooms NCL offers Freestyle Cruising, which means we can dine wherever, whenever we want. The main venue is the Versailles dining room. There are also other dining roomsthat specialize in different cuisines. Some specialty restaurants are free, some aren't. Here's my review on some of the restaurants we tried:
*Versailles (no surcharge): Food quality in Versailles is iffy. There were times when the food was absolutely delicious, and times when it was horrible. However, in all cases, I realize that NCL does not care about presentation of food. My experience with service in Versailles has been negative. For instance, the first night we had to wait about 10 minutes before our server even came to acknowledge our presence. When I asked for pepper, he simply removed a card that was blocking the salt and pepper shakers, and basically hinted I should use that instead of expecting fresh ground pepper from him.
*La Trattoria (no surcharge): While this is a typical pasta joint on Deck 12 with typical pasta dishes, the service at this restaurant was superb. These guys really went out of their way to make guests feel comfortable and welcome. Don't expect a nice Italian theme restaurant here. This "restaurant" is simply a cordoned-off section of the Market Caf頢uffet area. In the morning, it serves as the other side of Market Caf黠at night, they turn it into "La Trattoria" by dimming the lights and adding tablecloths. Reservations are strongly suggested.
*Le Bistro ($15 surcharge per person): I don't think there is anything special about Le Bistro, unless you like fondue. Even so, the fondue dessert won't get any praise from me. I have to admit that it takes place in a nicer setting, with an upscale feel, so it's perfect if you want to celebrate a special occasion.
After speaking to other guests on board, I realize I'm not the only one who feels service is horrible at NCL. My expectations are not high; I simply ask for polite and speedy service. Polite and speedy are not how I would describe the wait staff on NCL Star.
We received a notice of itinerary change when we were getting ready to embark. There were no prior attempts on NCL's part to notify us of the so called "rotor" problems that prevented us from traveling further south to Acapulco and Ixtapa. So as a replacement, we were going to stop in Mazatlan and Manzanillo. For this inconvenience, we got a credit of $50 per person.
We heard that NCL is notorious for leaving people behind if they are running a bit late. So we took the NCL shore tours at three of the four ports even though it would be a lot cheaper to grab a cab and taking a tour that way.
Manzanillo: We took the Comala/Colima tour that involved going to the Pyramids, visiting a cathedral and a museum, and stopping for lunch downtown. This tour was interesting, but not great. The restaurant they took us to, however, was fabulous -- very authentic Mexican food. The people in Manzanillo do not speak English well, so brush up on a bit of Spanish if you intend to buy something.
Puerto Vallarta: This was my third time in PV, so we decided to take the ATV tour. It was a lot of fun - we went on the back roads and in some instances went over water banks, etc. My only advice if you want to take this tour: Bring your own bandana. The ATV place did give us bandanas, but I soon realized they were useless. I guess they weren't made of high quality material and therefore didn't filter out the dust. That night I had plenty of gunk in my nose and throat. Also, try to find goggles that are not ripped apart. I had a rock that was stuck in my eye for a better part of the evening because my goggles were obviously very used.
Mazatlan: This was the one port where we ventured out on our own. We just took a cab, asked the taxi driver to take us to the cathedral in old Mazatlan, then asked him to take us to see the cliff divers before taking us to the Golden Zone. That trip cost about $25 for the both of us. We did a little shopping at Senor Frog's before retreating back to our ship. A taxi ride back to the port was $10.
Cabo San Lucas: This was my third time in Cabo. We took the Deluxe Cruise with NCL. This cruise sails out to the famous Arch of Cabo, then around the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean. They served complimentary drinks, chips and salsa during the entire trip. My advice is to head out early, grab a water taxi, and do the same exact tour I described above for a fraction of the price. But keep an eye on your clock, as we had to be back on the ship by 1:30 p.m.
Entertainment/Onboard Activities Nightly entertainment was so-so. I have definitely seen better. The Jean Ann Ryan Company Singers and Dancers can be missed for sure. The Fallons (Magician) is pretty good - try to watch the Close Up Magic in the Spinnaker Lounge later on in the cruise. The comedian, Dave Heenan, was so-so. He's entertaining enough, but not extremely funny. They also had a Broadway star, Jeri Sager -- she's one NOT to miss if you are a Broadway fan. I loved her - definitely the highlight of the entertainment.
Overall: I will probably never sail with NCL again. I also will not recommend it to anyone I know. If anything I have been telling people to steer clear of this cruise line.
While the ship itself is a beauty, the service of the workers there made the experience very unappealing. The fact that the line changed of the itinerary without any attempts to notify us, the lack of courtesy of staff on board, the generally poor quality of food, and the money-hungry ways of NCL makes me wander back to my favorite cruise line: Royal Caribbean.
Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star by Marie-Claude Mexico November 1, 2005 This was my 10th cruise but first on NCL. We chose this particular cruise for its itinerary since I had never been to the Pacific coast of Mexico. I was slightly apprehensive to cruise with NCL, and most of my apprehensions were proven right… The Norwegian Star was a disappointment. First, its cartoonish appearance and very ordinary décor (cheap furniture and finishes), then the tiny size of the cabin were all a shock. But we got used to all of it and were able to appreciate what it had to offer. However, the cabin is by far the smallest I have ever had. The beds were lumpy, the furniture was not adequate, and forget about storage. It was very tight. The public spaces were plenty: Lions Pub had great popcorn, library and reading room were comfy, the movie theater had comfortable seating even if most movies were outdated, the atrium was pleasant. The Promenade deck had lots of chairs. Pool was small but had nice slides for the kids, and lots of loungers on a multi-tiered deck – that wasnice!
The Stardust theater was awful… you always feel like you’re going to slide out of your chair… very uncomfortable. My favorite spot was the Barong Spa where you could use the lap pool and Jacuzzis at any time. Teak chairs with cushions facing the wake of the ship were very relaxing. NCL is also famous for its Freestyle. We wanted to try it but I think we’ll stick to either HAL or Celebrity’s traditional, or Princess’ Personal Cruising. They claim Freestyle includes over 10 restaurants. That’s partly true. 6 of those have a cover charge of $15 or $20, and several have à la carte pricing on top of that. So your choices quickly became one or two restaurants and a snack bar (Blue Lagoon – good food but very uncomfortable seating). We tried one Specialty restaurant without extras - Endless Summer - which was a Tex-mex menu. Food was worst than what we had had at the buffet. I would not recommend it. In the main restaurants, food was on average good; not extraordinary nor bland but adequate. Service is definitely less personal than on most other cruise lines, while proficient and for the most part courteous (not always in the Buffet). The itinerary was great – we discovered many different aspects of Mexico through the 4 very different ports of call : Acapulco: Do not miss the arrival in port at around 11h00 – it is spectacular! The port is nestled in the Bay of Acapulco which is breathtaking. It was hot and humid. We did a bit of shopping towards old Acapulco but the heat was really getting to us. So we took a cab to the beach, and had a few drinks on the beach. We walked back to the ship while watching Mexicans bringing their fish back on shore. At night, we took a cab to La Perla where we watched the divers at la Quebrada while sipping a Margarita. The view was awesome. Back on the ship, we were able to catch the Folkloric show by a local troupe of dancers, singers and musicians. Zihuatanejo: Small fishing village, a few miles from Ixtapa which is more touristy. We stayed in Zihua because it was more rustic. Artisans were waiting to show us their crafts and goods made of straw, onyx and silver. I bought a great box of dominoes, all in pink onyx for $10!! We relaxed on a beautiful beach that we walked to – we used the boardwalk after the market and were there in 10 minutes. The view was incredible – the Star anchored in the Bay! We loved this port for its simplicity, the people and the great shopping – the best of the whole cruise. Puerto Vallarta: The ship docked in Marina Vallarta, a few miles from the city. For $3 per person, a cab took us to the city. He dropped us off at the beginning of the Malecon, the boardwalk along the ocean, where you’ll see wonderful bronze sculptures. We walked to the Church of Guadelupe impossible to miss with its crown. The municipal market by the river Cuale, is also worth a stop if only to chat with the locals. The afternoon was spent on the Los Muertos beach. Waves were very strong, but the sun was great, and it was fun to just watch the many vendors coming by to sell jewelry, donuts or fruits piled high on their head! Cabo San Lucas: Last but not least, Cabo was my favorite port. Once on the pier, we hired a minivan for the 4 of us. Our guide Teo was outstanding. He had a brand new car, with great AC. He took us to the Finisterra hotel for a great view of the bay, then on to see The Glass Factory – way before all the ship tours arrived!. Then we visited all the new resorts – RIU Palace, Hilton, Westin. We even went in a very exclusive residential area where we saw some celebrities houses and a wonderful cacti botanical garden. Finally Teo took us back to the marina for the second part of our excursion, a glass bottom boat tour to Los Arcos. We were able to see up close the pelican and sea lions colonies, the rock formation of Los Arcos and Lover’s Beach. All that for $35 pp. After our excursion, we walked through the marina and had our last flavors of Mexico with a great lunch of fish and shrimp quesadillas and a Corona! In conclusion, we had a good vacation mostly because of the itinerary. We tried NCL for the first time with some disappointments. Given the choice, we will choose another cruise line in the future, such as our favorites HAL, Celebrity or Princess, unless a specific itinerary is only available with NCL.
I was with a group of 30, including my mom and 2 brothers who flew to Seatttle with me. I'm in a wheelchair and we hired a handicap accessible shuttle which we had a wait quite a while for.
We got to the dock and it was a madhouse. It took almost 2 hours just to check in. One nice touch was whenever a worker saw me in my chair they brought me and my family to the front of the line.
Once onboard, my mom and I went to our handicap accessible room with a balcony and I was instantly disappointed. I had asked someone at NCL if the sliding glass door had a lip and I was told that it did not. It DID - 5 inches high. Thank goodness my brothers were there to get me onto the balcony. Once I was there I had a great view through the glass walls.
We loved free-style dining! We could eat whenever we wanted. The 4 of us went immediately to the Blue Lagoon for Fish & Chips but I wasn't impressed. Everything was greasy and the room smelled thesame. I never went back but my brothers did.
My party choose the eat together 4 nights. We 1st ate at the Versailles and it took over an hour to seat 1/2 of our group. Then it took forever to get our food but my Beef Wellington was excellent.
Another night we ate at La Trattoria. The food was hit and miss. Mine and my mom's wasn't that great but my brothers enjoyed their dinners.
Next, we ate at the Auqa. The food was wonderful and the service was excellent. We talked to our servers and they were fun. My brother flirted with one and she said her husband was a chef in the restaurant. He didn't believe her so she brought her husband out. He was very funny and we ended up talking to them as the restaurant was closing.
Then we went to Endless Summer and that was a disappointment. The service took forever and I had a chicken enchilada which had peppers and onions in it. I wish that they had mentioned it in the description of the food.
Most times, we ate at the Market Cafe. It was convenient but the food was hit and miss. The glass walls were very much appreciated so we could eat while looking at the ocean. I suggest getting a soda card. It was $40 which is steep but better than a lot of ice with soda in a very small glass.
Our 1st port was Juneau and disembarkment was crowded but fairly smooth. I was pleasantly surprised at the accessibility of the city. Mendenhall Glacier was a minor disappointment - prettier in pics. The Mt. Roberts Tramway, to me, was also a disappointment. Expensive for what's there. As I got back on the ship, there was a dropoff at the top of the ramp. The guy looked at me as if to say "What are you going to do?" I just looked at him (it was 'supposed' to be accessible, after all). He waved some guys over and they helped get the chair onboard.
Our 2nd port was Skagway. Disembarkment went smoothly again. We had an excursion on the White Pass Railway and that was fun. Totally accessible, the workers were pleasant and our tour guide was very funny. It was a little drizzly so parts of it were foggy. Overall a great experience.
That afternoon, the Captain announced that we weren't going to Glacier Bay the next day because of "mechanical difficulties". My brother heard later that there were 7 ships in the area so they held a lottery and we lost. Only 5 ships a day are allowed into Glacier Bay. The Captain said they'd reimburse each cabin $200 for the inconvienence. Not per person, per CABIN. Needless to say, there were a lot of angry people. I will NEVER be able to get back to Alaska so not being able to go to Glacier Bay REALLY pissed me off.
Instead, we went to Sitka. They used tenders which were useless to me, being in a wheelchair. I sat in the Market Cafe while my party went onshore. Luckily, there's nothing there so they were back fairly soon. We sat on our balcony and saw a couple whales surface. That was cool! That night, while at the Karaoke contest in the Carousel Nightclub, someone said, "Whales!" I went outside with several dozen people and was just in time to see at least 3 dozen swimming by. It was an awesome sight! I stayed out for over an hour and saw several stragglers.
Our last port was Victoria, B.C. Everyone tried to get off all at once. They should've staggered the departures. We didn't get off til after 7 and our tour to Butchart Gardens was to start at 6:30. I had to get on a handicap accessible bus but my mom couldn't accompany me. I met up with her at the Gardens but by then 10,000 people were there and it was getting dark. The lighting was a joke. They should've skipped S(h)itka and gotten to Victoria at 6 am instead of 6 pm. We had to be back by 11:30 so were only able to be see the gardens for an hour before we had to start back to the buses.
We docked in Seattle at 6 am the next morning and we had hoped to enjoy a leisurely breakfast but they had us off the ship at 8:45 am.
I went to 2 shows. The tribute to Andrew Lloyd Webber's music was wonderful! The 2nd show was a tribute to Elton John. He was funny but sounded more like Rod Stewart than Elton John.
Don't get me wrong, I 'did' have a good time. Our balcony was wonderful to sit on and getting together with our group was fun. But not going to Glacier bay was a MAJOR disappointment.
My husband and I flew from L.A. to Seattle via Alaska Air. From SeaTac we took a cab which cost us only $30. Prior to embarking, NCL had guests wash their hands with a hand sanitizer set up nearby. Very nice touch. Embarkation was smooth, quick (25 mins.), and painless. Tip: make sure to bring birth certificate along w/ ID or passport. We were so early that our stateroom was not even ready which was not a problem. Stashed our one luggage and one carry-on in the closet and we were ready for lunch. My Mom and her friend (both from Hawaii) were even earlier and their ocean-view stateroom was already ready.
Our stateroom was on the N deck. Very satisfied with our room; very spacious and comfy. (My Mom and her friend were green with envy) I just couldn't get used to the shower, but it was fine. Best of all, it was conveniently located to the elevators and eateries. TV was small, but the fridge more than made up for it. Very handy.
My mom's stateroom on the 8th deck was tiny and cramp. However their oceanview window more thanmade up for it. Their bathroom was tiny as well, but I think they had a tub, we didn't.
By noon, we were in Versailles having lunch. We were seated next to the windows with the view of Seattle to our right. Versailles was beautiful and elegant. Unfortunately, the food was only okay that day, nothing memorable. After lunch, we explored the ship. Loved the library, theater, and Spinnaker Lounge the most. The ship was beautiful and best of all, immaculate! It stayed spotless the whole week!
Entertainment was alright. A new comedian just came onboard in place(?) of the magician who I heard was just excellent. His material was okay, but his oldies medley was excellent! The other entertainer that we had seen was Chuck, the juggler. Now, he was funny. We're not into juggling, clowns, and the like, but he was naturally funny. We liked him alot. Also saw the J. Ryan Show and their act was very good. The Stardust Theater was elegant. So was the Spinnaker Lounge. The only bad experience we had was with the servers at the lounge. They were so pushy that they almost spoiled the place for us. Tip: if you're in a tight budget, just order free coffee/tea. We also tried the Casino, it was okay. My Mom won $2700 her first time, $60 the next day and the rest, broke even. Needless to say, that was favorite part of the cruise.
Also dined at the Aqua which was not as grand, just a welcomed change of pace for us. If we were in a hurry, we would eat at the Market Cafe and if not in a hurry, we liked Blue Lagoon. Food overall was sometimes very good or just okay. Java Cafe also served free cookies and they were decent.
Juneau: secured four tickets early at the front desk the night before. We tendered 2 1/2 hours before the ship docked at AJ Dock. We took the $10 trip to Mendenhall Glacier. Tip: when getting off the boat, go right till you see the kiosks. Better deals than the ship's. On the way back from the Glacier, we got off the second stop near the Mt. Roberts Tramway. Explored the town till we got to the Red Dog Saloon. Had real crab cakes and crab cocktails and sang along with the crowd. Good ambiance! Weather in Juneau was drizzly and cold and overcast. Still enjoyed it! The shuttle back for the cruise ships are located near the tramway. You'll see tourbuses parked there. It's not the same place where the tender boats let you off.
Skagway: Cold and windy and rainy early. Cleared up later, but still chilly. Booked the White Rail Pass excursion thru NCL and it was worth it. After the tour, most passengers got off the first stop to see the town, but we went back to the ship to get our raingear and had lunch at the Market Cafe. Went back out and walked to town to shop and meet the locals if we could find them.
Ketchikan: Beautiful sunny day! Went off the beaten path and just explored the town. We also went up the funicular tram and walked down the pathway that turned out to be the Married Man's Trail. We passed the salmon ladder, but they were not running yet of course. We were also in search of a restaurant that served Copper River king salmon, but got sidetrack. This town was better shopping for me than Skagway and Juneau. Tip: look up to see eagles flying above.
Glacier Bay: Very cold in the morning, but got warmer later. I knew the Glacier would be active, calving-wise, because it got really warm. My husband was pessimistic but he was proven wrong, thank goodness. Everyone got an excellent footage of a huge iceberg breaking away. It broke away so slowly and instead of crumbling like the other ones, it toppled and crashed instead. It was an incredible sight to see.
Victoria, BC: Major complaint with NCL! All the reviews and correspondence I had read of NCL had complained about the same mad rush out to Victoria that we experienced on this cruise. We were already late to begin with since we detoured for a sick guest that needed immediate attention which was not a problem, but all the more reason that NCL should have thought of an orderly and organized way of letting people off. We were among the crowd at the 6th deck waiting to get off at the 4th deck and the line did not move for 20 mins and when it did we got down two steps and then dead stopped. It was awful! Our excursion was for 6:30, but we didn't get out till 8pm. We toured Victoria mostly in the dark. Tip: this is when booking thru the ship paid off! We got back on board around 11:40 and my Mom's group at 11:50pm. Boarding was supposed to be by 11:30 pm. Ship sailed away at midnight.
Disembarkation in Seattle was very smooth and easy. Freestyle dining and their disembarkation system were stress free and the best! Wished I could say the same about our Victoria experience.
This is my 2nd review of the NCL Star on Cruisemates. The last cruise was in Hawaii and can be found under Reviews, NCL Star.
With over 36 Cruises behind me I feel very qualified in providing honest and factual comments.
I was very reluctant to tak another NCL cruise because we did not have a very good experience on the last cruise on the Star, but we decided to give it one more try. Our travel agent was able to get us upgraded to deck 10 since we had so much trouble on deck 9 on our last cruise.
Lets begin with embarkation, things did not start out good. It seems everybody showed up at the pier at the same time and there were long lines and confusion everywhere. It was cold and very windy so standing outside for over an hour was not a very good start to our cruise. Anyway lets get beyond that. We where escorted to our cabin and it was up front but an a good location.We went up to the lido deck for soemthing to eat while waiting for out bags to arrive. Whenwe got back, they where there. We left on time and went to our freestyle dinner, I must say our first meal was excellent in everyway along with great service.
Without dragging this review on, I can tell you we had excellent food in every restaurant no matter when we went to eat. I want to say a word of praise for the breakfast buffet, normally you get the same thing day after day on other cruises, but NCL went out of there way to vary breakfast by not having the same thing day after day. Sure you had the typical scrambled eggs and bacon but it was all the other items you found each morning. No complaints here. We ate in the main dinning room each night except for our anniversary where we ate in the steak house. What a great experence the whole dinning room staff went out of there way to make that night special, including a cake. We also ate in the Japanese Teppan restaurant and we had the whole table to ourselves, we had a wonderfull meal and great service. All in all the food was great compared to our last cruise on the Star. We have no complaints.
The entertainment was wonderfull with different and exciting shows every night.
We only took 2 tours, the clif divers in Acapulco and horse back riding on the beach in Cabo San Lucas. Both were a wonderful experence and not expensive. Other than that we went on our own.
Wen yu arrive in Ixtapa take a taxi to the Villa del Sol, a beautiful resort to have lunch. You will love this place.
This was a wonderful cruise, with perfect warm weather and calm seas. Hats off to NCL, a 100% improvement over the last cruise on the Star.
Would I go again on NCL, for sure, if all there ships have the food and service like we experenced you will have a great cruise vacation.
Feel free to email me any questions you may have. Ron at email@example.com
My husband and I, both age 31, just returned from the March 5, 2005 sailing of the eight-night Mexican Riviera cruise on the Norwegian Star. My husband is an Account Executive for an HVAC wholesaler, and I am a Credit Analyst for a commercial bank. We left our two kids at home for this trip.
We had a very good time on our cruise, but we have mixed feelings about the whole freestyle approach. We like the flexibility of dining whenever we want, but miss the formality of dressing for dinner. The service on the Star was not as good as we have seen on our other cruises aboard Carnival and Princess, but it was adequate. The food was not as good as we had on Princess, but it was adequate. The facilities were not as nice as we had on Princess, but they were adequate. As you can see, there is a trend here: adequacy. Nothing on this trip really "knocked my socks off" but we definitely had a good time.
That said, here is my (lengthy) review of our experience aboard the Star.
Flight to Los Angeles: We had avery early morning, uneventful flight to LA from Eugene, Oregon. The stewardesses gave us a bottle of wine when they learned it was our anniversary. I had done some research into ground transportation options, and we didn't want to wait for the NCL shuttle, since we were arriving at the airport at 9 am. We booked online with Prime Time Shuttle service, and received transportation to the port for only $15 each. Since we booked online, we received excellent instructions via email on how to find the van, etc. I would highly recommend this service for both value and service. Embarkation: Embarkation was disorganized and not "user friendly". We arrived at the cruise port at about 10:30ish and no one from NCL was there to tell us where to wait. My husband asked twice, but got different answers each time, both incorrect. There were no porters available to take our luggage from us, so we were stuck waiting with our six bags. Finally a curt, loud woman named Gail told us to trek halfway across the parking lot to leave our luggage with a porter, and wait in a nearby tent. After about 45 minutes of waiting, we realized that a line to embark the ship had formed across the parking lot. No announcement had been made to those of us waiting where Gail had instructed. As a result, we waited in a very long, very slow line for our turn to clear security. As we waited, we watched as security "screened" baggage. No one was watching the X-ray machine as bags ran through; the operator was turned completely in his seat as the bags ran by. And worse yet, after the bags reached the end of the conveyor belt, they simply fell off the end and on top of each other before anyone moved them. No wonder everything gets broken in luggage!! After we finally made it in the building we were able to pass through security relatively quickly and then on to the ship to wait to check in. None of this was a very efficient process, if you ask me. Cabin: After check in we made it to our cabin, with little help from the NCL staff, as they were nowhere to be seen. We had an ocean view cabin on Deck 5, number 5092. The cabin was adequate, not much storage space, but still we managed to store all of our belongings. It was adequately decorated, not luxurious, but we weren't expecting luxury in this cabin category. The bathroom was much better than I expected, with a shower big enough to turn around in. I should emphasize that the cabin was adequate for two, possibly three. Anyone booking four people to this cabin should either be fairly small in stature or ready to get REALLY cozy. There was one fold-down bed, two twin beds, and a trundle bed. Once the beds are all erected I doubt that there is any floor space to speak of. But, as I said, this was a good cabin for two people. Public Areas: The public areas on this ship are nice, not particularly sophisticated, but more of a "fun" atmosphere. There were a lot of very bright colors, with somewhat modern décor in most areas. The swimming pool was pretty, although small and little used. The hot tubs were not always very hot, but there was always room in one of them. We never did get any bar service in the hot tubs, I don't know if this was intentional on their part or not. We were always able to find a lounger, although it seemed that a lot of people were reserving them for hours on end without ever showing up. I find this rude, but what can you do? The spa was beautiful, at the back of the ship with a wonderful view through floor-to-ceiling angled windows. There was no charge to use the co-ed lounge, swimming pool or indoor hot tubs, and no kids were allowed in this area. It was very peaceful and perfect for the first and last at sea days, when the weather outside was not very warm. I had a massage and a facial for $79 (plus gratuity) on the last night, both of which were very nice. The massage therapist did try to sell me products, but I expected this and declined. She was not pushy at all, and in fact didn't try to sell any of the facial products, since I told her that I already had a routine, which she felt was working well. We waited until the last night of the cruise to visit the spa area, though, and wished we had spent more time in there earlier in the week.
The casino was large enough, with no wait for either table games or slot machines. Bar service was efficient and friendly. Ventilation was adequate to remove excess cigarette smoke.
The Stardust Theater was a nice facility, but had some limited sightlines from the balcony area. We saw two shows there - a magician and an Andrew Lloyd Weber review. Both were good. Dining: We avoided the buffet completely. We walked through it occasionally to peruse the selection, but never saw anything appealing. We went there one night in hopes of finding dessert only to be disappointed by the selection. Oh well, my figure didn't really need another piece of cheesecake anyway. Six out of eight nights we ate in Versailles, as we liked the atmosphere and decoration better than Aqua. The other two nights we ate at Cagney's and at Le Bistro. We found the service in Versailles to be very slow. While we never had to wait to get a table, we often had long waits for our food and drink. Our water glasses often ran dry and at some meals we never got a second cup of coffee. But with a little patience we still enjoyed our meal. The food in Versailles was not bad, but it wasn't great. Most meals were good enough to merit cleaning my plate. The breakfast menu changed daily, but they only a few menus with little selection, so by the end of the week we were bored. We found that anything with red meat was usually pretty good: Prime rib, Beef Wellington, Veal, etc. The crème brûlée on the first night was good, but small. Our waiter spotted me trying to get every last bit out of the dish and brought me another one. God bless him. The only bad meal was the chicken parmesan. All of the soufflés were delightful, the Crepes Suzette was wonderful, and some nights I ordered multiple desserts. Portions seemed to run small to ridiculously small. One appetizer was only four fried mushrooms!
Night two we ate at Le Bistro - an experience I would recommend to everyone who boards this ship. We had the best meal of the week there, and certainly the best wait staff. We had escargot that melted in our mouths, filet mignon cooked to perfection and so tender that you could cut it with a fork, lobster, and a decadent chocolate fondue. Our Cagney's steakhouse meal was good, better than the main dining room and with better service. Again we had filet mignon and lobster, but the lobster was in the shell so we really had to work to get it. Le Bistro was better. We frequented several of the bars and received good service. The drinks were mostly good and I didn't feel that they were weak, as other reviewers have suggested about this cruise line. The cosmopolitans, in fact, were a little strong for my taste. But after two of them I didn't notice anymore! I do wish, however, that they had larger glasses for soda, since they will only give you one glass at a time. The bartender in the casino was very good. Acapulco: We didn't care much for Acapulco, nor did anyone else that we spoke with. It was not a very well-kept city, rundown and unclean. Prostitution was obvious, and there were shady characters lurking about. There were dogs running around, eating the garbage from bags left in plain sight in the Zocalo.
We did the "Isla La Roqueta Beach Break" organized shore excursion. For only $35 each it was a decent value: An afternoon spent lounging on a public beach and an open bar. The tour guide was very friendly, accommodating, and eager to please. Those in our group were the only Americans in sight, and my blonde hair drew quite a few stares. I think that I scared a few small children. On the way back to the mainland, our guide's employee, Julio, dove off an impossibly high cliff for our entertainment. He received many cheers and a good haul in tips.
The taxi driver that we hired at the port was insistent that we shop at the flea market, and then he followed us from stall to stall trying to lure us to certain vendors - no doubt in exchange for financial compensation. But then I've learned never to trust a Mexican cabbie, so we shopped where we pleased and ignored him. But when we were done shopping he did take us to a good restaurant near the port, as requested. From there we hired a non-English speaking VW taxi driver, who took us to the cliff divers for only $3. All it took was a little sign language and he knew where to take us. We didn't go to any of the famous bars or nightspots, as that isn't really our thing.
Zihuatenejo: Zihua was a beautiful, quaint little port with a nice beach and friendly locals. Unfortunately we were only in this port for a short time; I could have stayed much longer. There was plenty of good shopping within easy walking distance from the docks and several good beach-side eateries. The local entertainment was great - a pre-teen boy who could play the guitar better than I've seen in a long while!
Puerto Vallarta: Puerto Vallarta was nice, much cleaner than Acapulco. We spent half of our day on the beach at the NH Krystal Vallarta, which had a well-maintained beach area, very pretty pools, and clean bathrooms. The resort was within easy walking distance from the port. We asked at the front desk to use their facilities; for $15 each we got a day pass to the grounds. The money was then refunded through bar service - four pina colladas and some appetizers later we had gotten our money back, used their facilities, and everyone came out a winner. We hired a taxi from the hotel and spent the remainder of the day wandering along the Malecón, shopping to our heart's content.
Cabo San Lucas: Cabo was a very pretty port, perhaps my favorite of the four, although Zihuatenejo was a very close second. We spent most of the day wandering the town, shopping. For $20 we hired a water taxi to take us on a tour around Land's End. He spoke good English and was very knowledgeable about the area. He stopped at each point of interest to allow us a lot of time for pictures. He had plenty of tortillas on hand to feed the tropical fish, which were plentiful. We found Nemo! We were on the water for about 45 minutes, just the two of us and our two water taxi drivers. I wish that we had taken the time to go snorkeling there, but we had some urgent shopping to finish .
Disembarkation: I have read several reviews that people have written about this process on NCL. The concept of freestyle disembarkation is a good one - but it seemed disorganized to us. We had organized a tour of LA, and were in the second group to disembark. We liked being able to wait in our stateroom and have continental room service for breakfast. When our group was called, there seemed to be a shortage of people on hand to tell us where we needed to go and what we needed to do. There were a lot of confused passengers. We cleared customs on the boat - which was a very relaxed process and not nearly as intimidating as other customs experiences we have had. Our customs agent was actually smiling and having a good time! When got off of the boat and found our luggage there was mass confusion and nowhere to put our luggage. Luckily our porter was very kind and stayed with us so we didn't have to lug our stuff around - we tipped him very well. After an eternity of waiting we finally were assigned to one of the busses parked right in front of us. I never did understand what all of the confusion was about, but it could have been that there just wasn't anyone in charge of the situation. Our tour of LA was good but not exciting, it was only $45 a piece and ended at the airport so it was a great way to kill some time before our flight.
In Conclusion: We had a very good time on this cruise and certainly have no regrets about having chosen this cruise line over others. Had we never sailed on a Princess cruise, we would probably think that the Star was the crème de la crème. But, alas, we've been spoiled by the class, sophistication, and superb service of the Princess lines. We liked the flexibility of Freestyle cruising, but a similar program is available on Princess too. There was more of a party atmosphere on board the Norwegian Star than we prefer - but some people chose this line for exactly that reason.
In the future we will probably stick with Princess Cruises for their better food, accommodations, service, and overall class. Norwegian just didn't compete in our opinions.
We sailed January 8th, 2005 from Los Angeles to celebrate our Anniversary on January 11th in Acapulco. We had a balcony cabin on Deck 10 which was large enough, fairly attractive and had the large bathroom with divided areas which Norwegian cruise ships usually have. We liked the small refrigerator in the cabin and also the easy to use safe.
We found this ship to have very good entertainment with a lot of variety. The juggler/comedian was actually the act we enjoyed the most. The casino is large and has a good variety of slots and table games. The hosts are very friendly and helpful.
We did not pay for any of the restaurant meals on board. We noticed the quality of food was much lower than on Norwegian Spirit that we took to Alaska in August of 2004. We are led to believe this is now intentional in order to have guests pay to eat in the 4 "Premium" restaurants rather than the 4 or 5 free restaurants. The last night of the cruise in a main restaurant I sent back my food and then couldn't eat the replacement -really terrible fish cakes. We plan to set aside a night or two either on the ship or off on the next cruise, if we go Norwegian, to pay for dinner.
If your looking for Sterling Silver jewelry the shops at the ports are wonderful. You can find men's bracelets, necklaces, pretty Mexican opal rings (which is one thing I bought) etc.
Embarkation was the worst we've ever had going on a ship. We had to wait outside in a long line and then on the ship in a long line. They did offer drinks once you got inside. Disembarkation was a breeze.
Considering everything we had very easy tender rides to ports, great weather, fun ports, didn't need to take any tours (did hire a driver for the day and night in Acapulco) so except for the food this was a very enjoyable cruise.
Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star by dianeb_one Mexico January 4, 2005
Happy New Year everyone! I am just back from a first time ever cruise. I went on the Star on the Jan 4 Mexican Riveria Cruise with 3 friends. I WILL go on another cruise but it WON'T be on NCL. There are many other cruise lines to try.
I understand that with every situation there are good and not so good points.
On NCL (in MY experience):
Food. In the main dining room(s) Versailles and Aqua I was not impressed with either the food or the service. The food was WAY to much "wedding banquet" and the service was less than stellar. On more than one occasion water glasses were not refilled during the meal at all and no one ever came back to check on how we were doing. In the Market Cafe Buffet I was even less impressed with the food. If anyone is familiar with Las vegas I would rate it right down there with the buffet at the Sahara.
In the specialty restaurants it was better however it was next to impossible to get reservations in theselocations. Perhaps that is a reflection of the quality of the food in the main dining rooms. La Trattoria was the best on the ship but this place is shared with the buffet during the day. I thought that this was rather cheesy -- in the daytime it is a buffet and then at night they hang up some curtains, put cloths on the tables and call it a restaurant. Give this location a real space!I had salmon on three nights and this was the best meal I had on the ship.
Don't miss the Tiramisu in La Trattoria!!!!
Service. I was not impressed with the service on this ship either. My travelling companions had some "guests" on the other side of their room that were really noisy at all hours. From what I heard they were woken up in the middle of the night on more than one occasion. They called security and were told that security didn't hear anything so they couldn't do anything about it. The guests on the other side of the Noisy's were quite old and (speaking to their daughter) were woken up by these people as well, called security and were told that since no one else had complained there was nothing they could do.
How many complaints does it take to get something done? Why is one person's complaint not enough? I already mentioned the service in the dining rooms.
Staterooms: OVER THE TOP WONDERFUL!!!!! We had a mini suite -- 11076. The people we were travelling with had the one right next door and we had the stewards open the balcony door between the two. It was great. The rooms were much bigger than I had anticipated and there was a bathtub!! Plenty of room for clothes and a nice sitting area with a couch right by the TV. The stewards were great too. Took care of me and made up my room just the way I liked it and turned it down at night too. Always had a nice Good Morning or Good Evening and seemed to work all the time! The sad thing about all of this is that now I can never go on a cruise in anything less than a mini suite! I saw into some of the rooms on the inside of deck 11 and there is no way I could stay in that glorified closet! Wink
Ports: Manzanillo: One of our group is fluent in spanish so we had a HUGE advantage. We hired a taxi to take up to all of the sights and then to lunch. We went to Las Hadas -- oldest(?) hotel in town and very nice. Nice beach. We went to one of the locals markets and had a fruit water. That was fun. We went to one of the tourist markets on the beach. Then he took us to a great restaurant for lunch. As soon as we sat down plates of food were brought to the table. Guacamole tostadas, ceviche tostadas, potato tacos, enchiladas, meat tacos, etc etc. All anyone pays for is drinks. The place was HUGE. There were other tables full of people from the ship on a tour. There were 5 of us and when we got done with lunch the bill was $26.00 and I have never eaten so much food in my life. This restaurant was the best part of this port.
Puerto Vallarta: Again we hired a taxi driver to take up all over town and we spent about 4 hours riding all along th coast seeing all of the beautiful beaches. Had lunch at a place on the beach that was not that great. We all agreed that we should have just sat on the beach and eaten from the vendors that came around. We went to a store (Mini Super) in PV and got lots of sodas and mineral waters and brought them back on the ship. Loaded up the refrigerators in our rooms for the rest of the trip. I was really surprised that there was no problem bringins lots of beverages onboard as NCL lost some $$ by not selling sodas to us.
Mazatlan: We got a Pulmonaria driver (translated means "lung car") to take us to the locals market and then to the beach. We just wanted to sit on the beach and enjoy the sun. One of us went para sailing. We ate some cheese, dulce, chips and salsa that we had gotten at the market and some fruit from the vendors. Were there for about 4 hours and then we ate at a place right on the beach. Blue Shrimps Mojo de Ajo that were as big as my hand. HEAVEN!!!! We looked at the menu at the Shrimp Factory and Senor Frogs -- um.......no. Those places cater to tourists and we wanted to have some good food! Very Happy
Cabo San Lucas. We got to shore, had a delicious breakfast, walked around the mall a bit and went right back to the ship. We can go to a mall like that any day in La Jolla. This port was one of the least enjoyable. As we left, there were some beautiful beaches that would have been nice to go to for the day. The 4 hours that we were in Cabo were not worth it.
Speaking with other cruisers, NCL is not known for it's food or it's service. Well that shows.
Oh this is a good one.......when we got to our stateroom I was checking everything out and looking all around. I was looking on the floor by the sliding glass door and saw something there the looked like a black string. I picked it up and to my horror it was a thong, a black one and it was not fresh out of the laundry! EW!!!! I had the steward get it out of there.
This vacation was a great experience and I had a great time. Next time I am going to bring good coffee with me. All of the stuff onboard is really lousy!
Next cruise is going to be Alaska and I can't wait!
This was our 45th cruise, but only our second NCL cruise (the first was the Norway in 1984). Having cruised most frequently with Princess, we thought we would give NCL a try with this cruise on the Norwegian Star.
Overall impression and recommendation: We are not easily impressed. We would definitely sail on this ship again in a heartbeat. The ship and all of its themed public rooms are gorgeous, with a friendly and efficient crew. The food is excellent (other than the buffet on Deck 12), as is the freestyle dining option.
Your fellow cruisers: This is a much younger crowd than Princess. Especially at holiday, it's more boisterous, with lots of first-time cruisers. Many families with young children. There is a much more casual feel, but not as casual as Carnival. It was actually quite comfortable and fun.
Ship's Stabilizers / Captain's Ability: Norwegian Star's stabilizers are first-rate. After dozens of cruises in similar waters with much more movement, we hardly felt movement at all. Remember to avoid the front of the ship in case you are prone to sea sickness. Captain Sovdsnes was great. He always backed the ship in when dockingin each port, so that when we left, we just sailed straight out. No endless turning around in the bay before we could sail away. TIP: I include this category because not every captain will be a good captain. Be aware when you cruise and the captain is too hesitant or unpracticed because he might skip ports that other ships will visit. Jot down the captain's name so that when you book your next cruise, you won't get stuck with him again and get burned twice. (We have). Embarkation: We were set for express embarkation, having sent in our documents well in advance. Be aware that every three months aboard the Norwegian Star, it has to conduct a full crew immigration as well as passengers embarking and disembarking the ship, all in the same day. Unfortunately for us, December 23 was that day. We sailed through the past passenger Latitudes line only to wait for two hours to embark the ship. A major hassle, but completely unavoidable.
Restaurants/ Freestyle Cruising Dining: There is no Afternoon Tea service. We did not visit any cover charge restaurants (Ginza is $12.50 pp, So Ho Room and Le Bistro are $15.00, Cagney's is $20.00, and Sushi and Teppanyaki are a la carte pricing). Versailles, Aqua, Endless Summer, La Trattoria, Red Lion Pub for fish and chips and shepherd's pie are all free). Portions were somewhat smaller (oddly, even the tables are smaller than on Princess), but we found the food to be excellent everywhere we ate, especially Versailles and Aqua.
Endless Summer: (no cover charge, make reservations 1 day earlier) Don't expect this to be your local Mexican restaurant. That would be unfair. They're not tossing tortillas fresh out of a nearby oven or mixing tableside guacamole. You're in the middle of the ocean with an international crew. Still, we enjoyed this venue, and followed the recommendations of others who had dined here before. We loved the jumbo shrimp fajitas. We liked the guacamole/sour cream/salsa placed on each table. If you need your Mexican food fix onboard, this is it.
Blue Lagoon: (no cover charge) This is casual and small, and good for those off hours when you are feeling a bit peckish. Their oriental noodle soup is good, and the shepherd's pie is worth the wait. I wouldn't recommend the potato skins. They're fine, but they're not prepared as you are probably accustomed.
Market Cafe: We renamed this the Chaos Cafe. The buffet is fine, just not noteworthy. TIP: If you do eat at Market Cafe, there's another dining area toward the aft stairway on the starboard side which is much quieter with far less people and more open tables.
Tender tickets: For two of the ports, you'll be anchoring in the bay and tendering ashore (about a ten minute ride). The day before, numbered tender tickets are available in the ship's Library. Check the Freestyle Daily for times. Only one person from each family needs to pick up these tickets. The most efficient thing is to line up at the library's check-out desk so that when the ship's agent arrives with the tickets, you simply take your number (if there are 17 in your party, you'll need 17 tickets) and leave. The first day it was an absolute free-for-all as passengers who had just walked in the room pushed ahead of people who had been waiting up to half an hour. So the next time we all agreed to form a line and it was much faster and easier. There's plenty of time in these ports. Often the shops aren't open at 8 am when the ship arrives anyway.
Latitudes Program: If you have ever sailed any Norwegian ship, fax proof to the cruise line beforehand and get your Latitudes membership going. The check-in line at embarkation is much shorter, there is a special cocktail party onboard, a 10% discount on everything in the gift shops, a discount in the Internet cafe, and 20% off drinks in the Spinnaker lounge (at certain times on certain drinks). It seemed like over half the ship had cruised before, and that there were no special perks for more frequent cruisers.
Taxis in all ports: TIP: Never step into a taxi until you agree on the price. Find out beforehand what it should cost before you even get near that taxi. Ask Fiona onboard, ask the local tourist board, ask in a shop, or research it online. If it's only 10 minutes away, you should only be paying a few dollars. From every port to nearby hotels, no taxi cost more than $8.00, usually under $5.00. Drivers speak enough English to get you where you want; just be specific. It helps to quote the driver in pesos because they will almost always quote their price in pesos (50 pesos is under 5 dollars). You will not need pesos. Every place you go will take dollars. To convert you can just move the decimal one place to the left and adjust down a bit to figure out how many dollars.
We had zero bad experiences with the taxi drivers. They were all extremely nice and courteous. We usually tipped them so they almost made the amount they originally quoted, and they were very happy. Even if you end up paying more than the going rate, it's easy to be gracious. Think about how fortunate you are to be on a luxurious cruise ship, rather than spending your life driving a taxi in extremely hot weather on crowded streets. There but for the grace of God...
The Ports: This is Mexico. Don't drink the water, and remember that ice is water. Ask for cold drinks in a can or bottle. More and more places it is safe to get drinks with ice but we still don't do it.
Acapulco: Pretty faded from its glory of the 70s and 80s. The ship will try to steer you towards the few expensive stores where they have preestablished arrangements made. They directed us to Fine Bonita Jewelry, saying it was in the 'heart of Acapulco.' That's not true. This district was to the left when you get off the ship, and in old town. The area was awful, and totally run down, other than this one store. The store is overwhelming in its selection of expensive jewelry, but not what we wanted. The heart of Acapulco is actually in the opposite direction after you get off the ship (to the right), toward the high rise resort hotels leading up to that beautiful cross on the hill. There are many boutiques and small shopping malls in that direction. First-timers to Acapulco especially love the cliff diving at the beautiful Las Brisas hotel, and I believe they still have night-time shows as well (the ship stays until about 1 am).
Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa: Zihuatanejo is a charming fishing village, but Ixtapa is where the resorts are. The drive is about 50-60 pesos to the Ixtapa Hotel Zone. For quiet elegance, the most impressive hotel is Las Brisas, on your left as you sail into the harbor. Very distinctive, you can't miss it. The grounds are huge, almost like a rainforest, and steep, windy stairs lead down to the sandy beach below, where there's a casual restaurant called La Brisa, right on the sand. To find the private beach, walk in the lobby to the right, pass the reception desk on your left, go left around the corner, and take an elevator near the guest rooms. Then you take a second elevator with its own distinctive elevator bank, down to the beach level. Very interesting exploring here. For exercise, you can walk up a separate path, up steep stairs to the impressive pool area and up windy tree-blanketed paths to the lobby. This hotel is quiet, serene, and breathtakingly beautiful. If you want a beautiful, quiet place to sip a drink and write your postcards, this is the place. But if you're looking for excitement, this is not it.
The most boisterous, lively hotel (especially their crowded pool area) was Hotel Dorado Pacifico, also in the Hotel Zone. If you want to play a.m. tennis, their courts are an excellent choice. They are actually shaded by the hotel itself in the morning. Walk across the street to the shopping district. (All the hotels are walking distance from each other except for Las Brisas which is set apart and has its own private beach). The shopping area has many boutiques and restaurants. It's really quite pretty, and a new restaurant called 'El Infierno Y La Gloria' looked fantastic! We did not have time to eat, but it was pleasantly crowded and looked great.
Puerto Vallarta: The taxis are vans that pile you in at $3.00 per person and drop you off at, you guessed it, their pre-arranged expensive jewelry store downtown. That's fine. Pile in with your fellow cruisers and when you get downtown, just walk away to do your own shopping. Check out the old church (Iglesia de la Virgen de Guadalupe; they ask that you please don't wander around inside wearing shorts unless you stay near the door, this is a holy place). The main plaza is here, and worth taking some gorgeous pictures of the unique sculptures along the waterfront with the ocean in the background. If you are looking for a nice gift of jewelry for someone special back home, check out one of Sergio Bustamante's three galleries in town. He's surprisingly affordable for the quality of his work which he signs on the back. The biggest store is on the third street up perpendicular to the water, to the east of the main plaza. His jewelry is quite distinctive, and when you see it, you'll see why so many other artists appear to be 'copying' his work, having come from the same school of art. It's great fun, even if you don't buy a thing.
We grabbed a taxi (always take the Nissan taxis with the yellow doors) to the Marina Zone where the fancy hotels are. This cost about 40 pesos. The Westin is beautiful. They serve food poolside and have a very trendy beach restaurant/bar called Nikki Beach, with white-clad servers, next to these large, round beach lounges that have puffy pillows piled up in the middle, fanning out in the shape of a star for sunbathers. Reminded us of the trendy Sand Bar atop W Hotels.
Cabo San Lucas: This port town has grown. There is now a new shopping mall right on the Marina. It's a gorgeous new mall called Puerto Paraiso. When you get off the ship, keep walking right around the marina to the right. After about a ten minute walk you see the really huge building just after Plaza Bonita which is also good for shopping. Puerto Paraiso is brand new and it's first class. The second and third floors are still filling up, but already there's a full first floor including a large Sergio Bustamante gallery in case you missed him in P.V. It even has a Ruth's Chris Steak House and Johnny Rockets.
And finally, Disembarkation: The Norwegian Star is unique. They let you stay in your cabin until you're ready to disembark the ship. No endless waiting in a crowded, noisy public room tripping over other people's luggage. Just wait in your cabin enjoying your satellite CNN TV with room service and wait for your colored luggage tag to be called, then head to the gangway.
Last Impression / Comparison with Princess: Okay, so there's no afternoon tea like Princess Cruises. And the Norwegian Star's buffet was pretty plain, unlike the Horizon Court buffets on Princess ships which are phenomenal and spectacular. The past passenger benefits are definitely greater with Princess than Norwegian, and the Princess crowd is older and more traveled. Still, this was great Fun! Looking over our shoulder when we disembarked this beautiful ship, we agreed that we are definitely booking another cruise on the Star. Happy Cruising!