Norwegian Star Cruise Review by SeaMaverick: Love, Love, Love Freestyle Cruising
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Love, Love, Love Freestyle Cruising
My wife (late 40s) and I (early 50s) sailed on the Norwegian Star to Bermuda, June 3-10. We have cruised several times before, on other lines, but always with our children. This was our first time on Norwegian. As it was a second honeymoon for us to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary the intent of the cruise was simply to have a quiet, relaxing vacation week alone together, away from the demands of the home, the office and the family.
Leaving from the piers in NYC could not have been easier. We were dropped off by limo about 11:30 AM and moved quickly through security and check-in. During this process we were assigned a boarding number. After obtaining our key cards we took a seat and probably waited only about 15 minutes before they started calling numbers for boarding. We were warmly greeted by several members of the crew as we boarded. Although there was a buffet in the Market Cafe and a sail away BBQ by the pool, we opted to go More directly to the main dining room (Versailles) for lunch. Just about the time lunch was done there was an announcement on the ship's PA that the staterooms were now open, so we proceeded directly to our room on deck 10 to drop off our bags and go explore the ship. It was that easy.
We booked over a year in advance, so were able to obtain a mid-ship balcony stateroom. We were in cabin 10098. The room was a little small, but more than adequate for the two of us. The closet is ample enough to hang shirts and pants and still store ones luggage. There are shelves within the closet, as well as numerous cubbies and several drawers to take the rest of the clothes. The room comes with a mini bar/refrigerator, hair dryer and small room safe. (The safe is the kind that has a 4-digit electronic keypad where you set your own combination rather than the kind that is locked by swiping any card that has a magnetic strip.) The bed was a little hard, and also seemed a little short, but it was nothing that total exhaustion from a long day couldn't overcome. As other people have posted here, there are only 2 electrical outlets in the room, so one must prioritize recharging phones, camera batteries, etc. No big deal though. The TV admittedly is old style and could use an upgrade to a flat screen upon the ship's next refurbishing. The balcony is wonderful; complete with one lounge chair, one regular chair and a small table. For the most part it is private enough that one can sit out there at night in just a bathrobe and not feel self conscious. The bathroom is typical for a cruise ship, with enough room to move around provided you are not sharing it at the time. All in all, the room was quite comfortable for a week long voyage.
Many of the posts on this site mention the same three complaints about the Star. The first is that the ship is showing her age, the second is that the pool deck is mega-crowded and the third is that the layout of the decks does not allow a smooth flow. All three of these observations are true, but none of them detracted from the vacation for us.
Yes, the Star does show some signs of wear and tear if you look closely for them. For example, the carpet is a little worn outside of Versailles and one of the buttons in one of the elevators was missing. So what? Why nit-pick the little things? It certainly is nothing that is going to make or break the cruise. The fact was that throughout the trip the maintenance crew could be seen daily doing varnishing of some rails, touching up paint on some of the murals, cleaning and scrubbing. They are a hard working lot and did a tremendous job of keeping the ship looking clean and tidy at all times.
The pool deck does get extremely crowded. By 9:30 AM there is not a deck chair to be had anywhere from the helipad in the stern to the quiet zone in the bow. If you are intending to spend the better portion of your day lying in the sun, cooling in the pool or drinking at the poolside bar then this could be an issue for you. For us, we rarely even visited this deck during the day so it was a non-issue and did not impact our overall 5-star rating.
The largest thing that seemed amiss in the public areas is that it is sometimes awkward getting from point A to point B until you figure out the lay of the ship. This is because several of the corridors dead end at a specialty restaurant that you can not walk through. For example, on deck 7 you can not walk from aft to forward through the port corridor. You can only go this full length on the starboard corridor. Likewise, although the Market Cafe is shaped like a horseshoe one side of that shape is a dead end on the port side. Instances of places where intuition would dictate a set of stairs should be located but are missing also abound.
The bottom line is that there are plenty of places onboard to see and go, so find your own favorite spot. We never used any of the specialty restaurants, bars, lounges or casinos yet still found our days to be full with things to do. And the fact that the promenade deck actually wraps completely around the ship, with 4 laps equaling 1.4 miles, there is ample room to just stroll for hours and take in the fresh air and ocean vistas. (If you do watch the waves for flying fish, the schools are everywhere.)
Without exception the crew of the Star is super friendly. Hotel Director Sean has taught his staff well. It seemed everyone we passed, from the maintenance crews to the stewards to the dining room staff always smiled and said hello. The Cruise Director Kyle, who looks and sounds a lot like actor Alan Thicke, said it best the first night of the cruise when he explained that the goal of the crew was to ensure that everyone had an EXCELLENT vacation. We did.
Special kudos goes to our room steward, Ronnie, who was always laughing and having a great time and who unobtrusively kept our room in pristine condition. Kudos also go to Ana, the hostess in Versailles, who learned our names and seating preference the first night. For the rest of the cruise she always greeted us by name and put us in a table for two by a window without even having to ask.
All of the entertainment on the Star was enjoyable. We enjoyed several of the shows enough to take them in twice, going to the early show then returning for the second show. The acts will vary throughout the cruise season and their appeal will fluctuate based on individual taste, but they are all entertaining. For example, we did not find the Second City comedy show to be all that funny, but did enjoy the performance of Dmitri and Maria from the Russian Bolshoi (even though that is not something we would probably watch under non-vacation circumstances). In our opinion, the best shows were the ones with the full 20 member ensemble of singers, dancers and musicians. Band on the Run is a high energy 70s song and dance production not to be missed. Shout was a bit of a nostalgic trip through 60s British music as sung by 5 female vocalists. Elements, the final performance of the cruise, was an enjoyable mix of theatrical dance, magic, and aerialists. Although the magician's solo show earlier in the cruise was a little weak, his performance as part of Elements was considerably better. (And his assistant is stunning.)
Food and Dining
We loved, loved, loved freestyle cruising. In addition to not needing to dress up in anything more than business casual, we always had a private table for two at a time of our choice. We never had any wait to be seated either, but then we ate almost exclusively in Versailles and arrived ahead of the crowd at 8 AM, Noon, and 5 PM when they opened. Plan on a slow, relaxed meal. Breakfast generally took about 45 minutes, lunch about an hour, and dinner anywhere from an hour to 1 'Â½ hours. If you are in a hurry, then go to the buffet instead but don't complain about the seating. A few times on port days we grabbed a quick bite in the Blue Lagoon -- either a burger or fish-n-chips. Here, too, figure on about 45 minutes to finish lunch.
We never visited any of the specialty restaurants. We felt that the food in the main dining rooms offered sufficient variety and was all tasty. Portions are a little small, but that makes it easier to sample different things by ordering 2 starters, 1 entree, and a dessert along with the bread basket. If you are planning to go to the specialty restaurants, check the monitors located throughout the ship to see which ones are already booked and make your reservations early. It seemed that Teppanyaki was always completely booked every night.
Among our favorite dinner entrees was the prime rib, Norwegian seared salmon, and lobster tails with red snapper. The best breakfast item had to be the smoked salmon eggs Benedict. For lunch, try the Vietnamese Summer Roll as a starter and the salmon and shrimp salad on a club roll. And for dessert, the milk chocolate mousse was delish.
What a beautiful country! A few tips and notes from personal experience. The best way to get around is to get a 3 day transportation pass for $28 and to take the water shuttle and buses. The drivers are all helpful, and even the passengers all seem to practice "British politeness" (as opposed to "American rudeness"). We felt safe anywhere on the island that we went by simply exercising reasonable caution. The roads are extremely narrow though, and most do not have shoulders, so do not expect to walk along one of them to get where you are going. St. George is a picturesque throwback to the 1700's, but getting there and back will consume much of your day. Figure 1 hour by bus from the dockyard to Hamilton and another hour by bus from Hamilton to St. George. By water shuttle it's about 25 minutes from the dockyard to Hamilton and 45 minutes from the dockyard to St. George. But check your schedule carefully. There are some gaps in the schedule especially around midday. The view from the top of Gibbs Hill lighthouse is worth the walk and the climb. Horseshoe Beach is nice, but if you continue down the road to the east about a mile and get off at Warwick Long Beach instead, the scenery is much more spectacular. There are many private little coves, and there is a trail you can take to walk back to Horseshoe Beach. Be prepared for quick, passing rain showers at any time. And be sure to try the rum cake!
This was quick and simple. Just follow the instructions that are played on the TV in your stateroom, select an appropriate colored tag for your luggage that corresponds with the time you want to depart, and on the last day just wait for them to call that color. Unassisted walk off is even easier, if you have packed light enough that you can manage your suitcases on your own. That's the key to planning ahead.
A vacation is what you make it to be. If you look for faults anywhere you're sure to find them. But the little things are not going to make or break your vacation unless you let them. Everyone is different. The lack of seating around the pool may be a major negative for someone intending to spend the day sun worshipping but for others, like me, who had no intention of spending any time on that deck it's a complete non issue.
The staff's job onboard the Star is to help make your vacation more pleasurable and enjoyable. But always remember that the staff members are people too, who are spending extended stays away from their home and families, working hard, while you're having fun. They're human and make mistakes, which is not a problem as long as they make an effort to correct it. From sitting back people watching I can not tell you how rude and inconsiderate towards the staff so many of my fellow cruisers could be. Don't be that way and you'll have a fantastic time with Norwegian. Lighten up, smile, and enjoy the cruise! Less
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