This is our 18th cruise with NCL in 4 years and we are at the Platinum level. We recently moved to Florida, so Tampa was the perfect port to leave from. The drive is only 3 hours from our home and it was nice to not fly to a port. On our way we stopped in Sarasota for lunch at Greco Cafe (1592 Main St.) and it was like eating in Santorini! We stayed at the Hyatt Regency (downtown) which is just a short walk to the trolley which will take you along the sea port and to Ybor City. We were able to see the ships that were in the day before ours and we ate and drank at the wonderful Tampa Bay Brewing Company in Ybor City, for lunch. Dinner was at Jackson's Bistro-Bar-Sushi and it was fabulous! It was especially fun as lots of high school seniors were there for their prom night dinner. The dresses on the young ladies were to die for! (Just a little jealous!)
The morning of our cruise we dropped our large cruise bags at the port and then parked in a secured lot. A shuttle took us back to the port where we were escorted to the VIP lounge and were checked in by a very pleasant lady. We then got to see our Concierge, Monica, whom we have sailed with before. It wasn't long and we were escorted to Cagney's for the VIP lunch, but as we had friends aboard we opted to head to the pool deck and await their arrival in the sunshine. About 1:30 the announcement was made that cabins were ready so we all headed out to our various decks. We booked a suite aft on Deck 9 (Deck 10 is the preference, but they were already booked). The wine and Proseco we ordered through Miami office was awaiting us and we began to unpack. (Unfortunately one of our fellow passengers fell ill and left the ship midway through the sail, offering their suite on Deck 8 to our friends. Thus the change in how this is written.)
It wasn't long until there was a ringing of the doorbell and our Cabin Steward, Pelam, introduced himself. He said that his brother-in-law, Maxi, would be our butler and that he would present himself shortly. And he did. We could see that we would be well taken care of on this cruise by two such seasoned veterans of the cruise line. Hallelujah! Believe it or not, we had our cruise bags in our cabin, unpacked, and slid under the bed by the time we went to Muster.
Once we were able to relax a bit we headed onto our deck and noticed a diver in the water with camera gear. Our fear is always the nasty Azipod problem, but we decided that Captain knows best, so we put our worries aside. Later we would learn that it actually was a propeller problem; a fish net had become entangled. It was obviously on the port side as we hardly ever saw that side running at full power.
Our friends arrived shortly after Muster and the 'pop' of the bubbly bottles heralded the beginning of another fantastic cruise, one with new ports to come! We were all excited to be leaving from a port new to us and photo taking was the order of the day. As we neared the Sunshine Bridge our anticipation grew as we all love the architectural beauty of it. How disappointing to realize that the fascination for the bridge can only be realized from the roadway, not the waterway! But it was still a great sail away...and now it was time to get ready for dinner.
The sail away dinner is always in Le Bistro and this night did not disappoint. We had a fabulous time...the food was delicious, the wine so fine, and dessert was just what we needed to 'start' us off right. Our servers were wonderful and even offered to deliver a little something to Captain who was dining just a few tables away.
The Ship: We have sailed many times on M/S Norwegian Star and she is a favorite. She's not quite as big as the Jewel class ships, so it is possible to see someone more than once during a cruise! The only complaint we have is this: Since removing Spinnaker and putting it aft on Deck 7, the heart and soul of this ship is gone. The 'new' Spinnaker is like a convention center meeting room. It lacks warmth, it lacks, windows, it lacks a soul. It would have been preferable to cut the size of the old Spinnaker, but leave it in its glorious location. And now when you sail to Alaska or through the Canal, your viewing spots are limited. That's a shame for those that have inside or window cabins. And if you have a suite aft on Deck 8, you better be a night owl as the noise from the bands and recorded music is awful (as told to us by our friends). One night we could even feel the vibration on our deck! NOT acceptable!
One other point about this great little ship: She needs to be refurbished in the cabins. Our suite was much like the one on Gem with the cabinet door over the refrigerator almost falling off; the tie-backs for the curtains pulling out of the walls, and the closet doors rattling in rough seas (tighten the screws!). And our deck was worse...the glass panels were missing almost half of the screws to hold them in place!!! We also understand those glorious coffee makers are about to bite the big one! Hurry! Order more!
Activities: We really didn't partake in Bingo, Art Sales, etc., and we never do. We are on board to relax and unwind. The most rambunctious we got were cocktail parties and trips to the spa for massages and mani-pedis. Now THAT is relaxing! But I will say that we saw our CD, Kyle, EVERYWHERE, and he did a fabulous job as did his assistant. Kudos to Kyle!
Service: We had wonderful service from those tending to us in our suite to the wait staff and the laundry folks. We were especially interested in one waiter at Moderno who was one of the best we've ever had. His name is Renante and he has the uncanny ability to make every single person at your table feel special. Once you go past four people that's hard to do; we had five and we all felt like he was catering just to us. We also must tip our hats to a few others who went above and beyond for us: Beverage Manager, Katya, who helped one of our friends order some very special wines. Restaurant Manager, Deepak, who arranged a lovely dinner for us one night. Hotel Director, Sean, who also arranged a lovely dinner for us at Moderno (more on this later). And, as previously mentioned, our Cabin Steward and Butler could not have been better. They were there to ask after us twice a day and the rest of the time they were very attuned to our wanting to just relax. They were great! A Big thank you to Martin for pinch-hitting for Captain at dinner (sorry you were ill, Captain), but we're glad we finally got to know the famous Martin. To Anne, Michelle and Sawant for taking us under their wings and being such wonderful friends. Chef Barrington...always a pleasure!
Excursions: We took two excursions this time and both were adequate for the price paid. The first was in Jamaica where we signed up for the private beach time. This sounded like it was a private hotel/club, but was actually just a private beach with some tiki type buildings, very antiquated toilets, and little else. The wait in the tent was horribly hot and was much better once we moved outside (a half hour wait). The ride was quick, with a great driver named Big Mike, but the road into the place was a rutted dirt road. Beach chairs and lounges were awaiting us and the woman 'assigned' to us was very good about tending to us. About every half hour of the four hour stay we were brought a small plate of food. It started off with a rice offering, followed by a strange vegetable dish, then chicken from the grill. Rum punch or beer was available for free, but the rum in the coconut was $5 for one shot of rum, $7 for two shots of rum. At one point she came by with a tray of ice water that really appealed to me and I forgot the first rule of travel: Don't Drink The Water!!! I did and I paid for it just prior to dinner aboard ship that night. (I spent five hours praying to the porcelain God!) That aside, we didn't bring a camera as we thought we'd be snorkeling only to find out there is none. So it was sit on the beach, cool off in the water, eat the food, and drink the booze. It was a beautiful spot, but it could be so much more with just a little thought.
Our second excursion was in Curacao; our third time there and we decided it was time to do more than just shop and drink cold beer (there was still time for that!). We took vans to the town center (got to go over the big bridge) and board the little train trolley. We were very glad we did so as we learned more about the city than we had imagined possible. We would encourage first-timers to do this. It also helped that the wind was blowing and the temps weren't as high as normal. This was worth the money and small amount of time involved.
Aruba: Our third time and still not a favorite...maybe due to politics. We did go shopping for a bit and then hit Iguana Joe's for the always fabulous lunch and the service is top notch.
St. Marten: Our first time here and we fell in love with the place! How wonderful that you get off a big ship and then take a water taxi to the town center. We were there on a Sunday and, in addition to that, it was also a day the children were having a parade at 2 p.m. We walked around town waiting for the shops to open (bought a new Nikon 1 at Chulani's Seiko House for a fab price!) as well as the restaurants. A lot of shops didn't open at all and we were warned they would all close at 2. Our friends took a boat excursion to the French side (which we had hoped to see, but the parade closed the roads) and they reported that all shops were closed. By 1 p.m. we had lunch beachside, did a bit more shopping and then headed back to ship. We want to go back again on a week day!
St. Thomas: Always a favorite of ours; been there too many times to count! We five headed downtown for some serious shopping, then hit the bar in the midst of the walkway (you know where I mean if you've been there). Afterwards we headed back towards the ship and Grand Cru at Yatch Haven Grande for lunch. The food was great, the service was wonderful, and the drinks were delicious. After 3 days of a lot of smack talk, a few drinks, and a 'Double Dog Dare Ya', the guys went into ICE to get their ears pierced! Then it was back to shopping around the port (the power was out so many shops could only take cash) and then back aboard.
And not to be forgotten: SEA DAYS! We love, love, love sea days. A time to really relax, unwind, get a massage, a mani-pedi. The folks at the spa did not disappoint as they needed weary muscles, did reflexology, painted nails, massaged legs and feet. Ahhh....
Note re Spa Services: This is the second time this has happened, so it's worth reporting. At one of the cocktail receptions the good doctor from the Spa was in the receiving line and told me I should come visit her as she could "make me look ten years younger". When I responded that I didn't want to look ten years younger she responded, "Okay, five years". I then told her she could do her magic on someone else, I am happy with whom I am and I don't need that stuff. Really, I'm always stunned when this happens as it is neither the time nor the place. I actually was insulted that she would say this. If I want something like this done I will go for a consultation. The payback was seeing ONE person attend her seminar in the reception area. BTW: Watching her slide show of before and after was NOT appetizing as I had breakfast at Blue Lagoon one morning. NCL: You need to put these 'shows' in one of the conference rooms. If there isn't enough business for this then maybe it's time to delete it. You know how to do that, don't you?
Dining: We were so glad to see that some of the menus have not only changed a bit, but have been reduced. It makes for better dining in every respect. We were especially glad to see this in the VIP dining at Cagney's for breakfast and lunch. And we always have a night that we 'pig out' in the cabin with our friends. We have our butler get the Blue Lagoon menu for us and we order up a storm! We can drink, eat, be silly, get serious...it doesn't matter...we just enjoy!
Moderno: This venue opened at the beginning of our sea days. We were invited to dine there with the compliments of one of the officers and it was so good that before the evening was over we had booked another night. But be prepared...don't eat a lot that day. As I told the officer responsible for our running amok that we were in a 'Carnivore Coma' the day following! You must start with the Caipiroska cocktail (2 are better), followed by the salad bar and the Pao de Queijo (Brazilian bread)...the beet salad was to die for...so simple and so refreshing. The salads were amazing, but the real star was the seafood chowder...OMG! It was soooo good! The first night we tried to do it all...every meat, every side...impossible! I will tell you that the lamb chops are perfectly prepared, the filet is to die for, the garlic beef is succulent, the sirloin is like buttah, the linguica and chorizo are perfection, the ribs with their fabulous dry rub are heaven, and the marinated chicken legs are like nothing you've had before. For sides I can only remember the fried sweet bananas...yum! And the one dessert was the coconut flan although my table mates loved the mango rice pudding. The only thing to improve it would be to have that wonderful Senior Waiter, Renante, hand feed you! LOL! It was THAT good! NCL got this right!!!
Disembarkation: It's always so sad to leave the ship and as Star is truly our home away from home, this is no understatement (I think NCL's new ads had us in mind). We were all up early to take pictures of Lady Liberty as we sailed up the Hudson. We noticed the river was running pretty swiftly, but we failed to see how high she was. After a wonderful breakfast in Cagney's, with our usual Mimosas to get us in the festive mood, we sensed a problem. With both the river high and swift it was difficult, if not nearly impossible, for Captain to dock. We waited in the theatre, as assigned, and missed the 747 with Enterprise atop flying by. After two long hours we were finally docked (hey, sh** happens!) and off we went. What a fabulous surprise to see officers and crew on deck waving to us as we left. It's not 'good-bye' it's just 'until next time'. And they know we mean it.
We found ourselves a porter to take all the bags for the five of us, were whisked through Customs, and off to a waiting limo. Our trip to lower Manhattan was almost too fast to digest, but staying at the Hilton Millennium, across from 1WTC, was a treat! We had great views of the tower, the memorial, the river. And if you're there for any time, have breakfast at Kitchenette (lower and mid locations) and enjoy the house coffee (Gramercy Park brew from Dallis Bros). Then, if you like French food and a relaxed atmosphere, visit Les Halles (two locations as well) and have the duck...it's fabulous and so is the service.
Flying out of JFK we found ourselves, in the wee small hours of the morning, driving right by the hanger where the 747 and Enterprise were housed. Upon take-off we actually got a clear shot of both through the airplane window.
Wow! What wonder-filled memories, both on the ship and off...